Whatever side you choose, it seems there may be no clear winner. We called on two of the leading voices in the debate—CASM and CASE—to make their cases.
CASM is a consortium of seven U.S. domestic producers of crystalline silicon solar technology, led by Oregon-based SolarWorld Industries America, a unit of Germany’s SolarWorld AG. Key players also include Wisconsin-based Helios Solar Works and New Jersey-based MX Solar USA, a unit of Italy’s MX Group. The four other companies remain anonymous (see americansolarmanufacturing.org).
CASM’s position is that markets, not governments, should set prices, especially abroad. This principle is upheld in U.S. law and World Trade Organization agreements, which state that dumping goods (selling below cost) in another market and government subsidies are illegal when they injure a competing industry.
Says CASM: “By plowing billions of yuan in government subsidies and loans from state-owned banks into its industry, China’s authoritarian policy apparatus has put its full might behind an illegal export campaign to wipe out foreign solar competitors. It is simply not reasonable to expect that China would continue to invest tens of billions of dollars in public funds to keep prices artificially low in foreign markets after it eliminates competition—China would raise prices. Manufacturing and installation jobs outside of China would stop growing. Investment in innovation would slow. Pressures for production efficiency would ease. Long term, everyone would lose. Any claim that prices will skyrocket [as a result of tariffs] overlooks the market reality of plenty of fierce competitors from other regions, including Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and Europe. Enforcing our rights as an industry under U.S. trade law is not the same thing as causing a trade war.”
CASE represents 177 member companies, including silicon and module manufacturers, project developers, financial and real estate services, and installers. Key players include Suntech Power and Trina Solar (see coalition4affordablesolar.org).
CASE says that “97% of solar jobs are outside of the sector that punitive tariffs would supposedly protect: silicon solar cell manufacturing. More than 52% of all solar jobs are in installation and maintenance—the high-paying, family-supporting, blue-collar jobs that the nation needs to recover from the recession. With punitive tariffs, homeowners, developers, commercial users, electrical utilities, and consumers will have to pay higher prices for solar energy, and many will have second thoughts about solar power. This year, as the use of solar energy continues to increase, the industry expects to develop almost $12 billion worth of projects and hire some 24,000 more workers. But higher costs could delay or even cancel these projects. According to a study conducted before the Department of Commerce’s preliminary decision by the economic consulting firm The Brattle Group, steep tariffs on imported solar modules would result in the loss of almost 50,000 jobs by 2014. If the solar industry becomes the battleground in a trade war with China, the first casualties will be American workers, business people, and environmentally conscious consumers.”