SolarWorld has a history of taking on Chinese trade practices, and now the company is at it again: It's pushing for new tariffs against Chinese solar firms that it says are using a loophole in an earlier ruling in order to continue dumping panels into the U.S. below market value. SolarWorld was also the petitioner in that first tariff ruling, which came down in 2012.
"The government-underwritten Chinese solar industry has decimated much of the solar manufacturing industry on several continents, including the Americas," Ben Santarris, strategic affairs director for SolarWorld America, wrote in an email to CNBC. "Many U.S. companies have shut down production, costing the jobs of hundreds of Americans."
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Devon Cichoski, a spokeswoman for SolarWorld America, took the charges a step further, telling CNBC that the hacking is "yet another example of the Chinese government's systematic campaign to seek unfair advantage in the U.S. and global solar industry."
However, many SolarWorld rivals in the U.S. have been loath to embrace SolarWorld's petitions for increased tariffs, and an organization called Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) has sprung up "united in the belief that SolarWorld's actions will kill jobs in the U.S. economy while raising the price of solar energy," according to its website.
CASE boasts more than 90 solar industry firms as members, including billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's SolarCity.
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SolarWorld produces and installs its own panels, controlling every step of its supply chain. But many other U.S. companies choose to specialize, producing the basic silicon building blocks, building the individual cells that make a panel, or just installing pre-made panels.
Many of those companies will suffer if tariffs are levied on Chinese manufacturers, according to George Hershman, a division manager for Swinerton Renewable Energy, a CASE member. He said his group does not support a legal petition on Chinese trade practices when other steps could be taken that won't damage other sectors of the U.S. solar economy.
"We just think that handling this through the Department of Commerce is a broad-reaching approach to an issue," he said. "The industry ... recognizes that a settlement is a better solution."
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Chinese manufacturers found a way to avoid the 2012 tariffs by simply outsourcing solar cell production to Taiwanese factories, Santarris said. About 70 percent of all Chinese solar imports in the U.S. market now employ that strategy, he added.
With its new petition, SolarWorld America has opened itself up to a new wave of criticism, both from abroad and at home.
Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a February statement that "if imposed, the tariffs sought by SolarWorld … could result in a sharp increase in the cost of solar energy in the United States. It's time to end this needless saber rattling."