Bankrupt Atlanta-based solar cell manufacturer Suniva Inc. is fighting what appears to be an uphill battle in a trade complaint designed to get its factories and those of other U.S. manufacturers back on line.
The law firm representing the company, Mayer Brown, released a report this month outlining the factory jobs its says would return if tariffs requested in its Section 201 trade complaint are granted. The complaint asks for presidential action under the Tariff Act of 1974, calling for duties that would effectively double the price of imported solar panels, according to the Financial Times.
Bringing shuttered Suniva and SolarWorld factories back to full health, as well as generating an additional two megawatts of U.S.-made capacity, would create 37,500 to 45,000 American manufacturing jobs, the Mayer Brown report argued.
Suniva has said that cheap panels from China (and countries where Chinese producers have set up shop to avoid trade remedies) are flooding the market, “decimating” the domestic solar manufacturing sector and its middle-class workers.
Industry groups, however, have said that cheaper inputs are driving costs down and enabling growth in installations, which lead to more resilient employment in the U.S. and improve the overall health of the industry.
Of the 260,000 solar-sector jobs, just 38,000 (about 15 percent) are in manufacturing, and the Solar Energy Industries Association has led the fight against Suniva’s action, arguing that the industry as a whole shouldn’t be held hostage by one small producer.
The Mayer Brown report, however, said that ancillary players in the sector would also benefit from more U.S. production capacity, to the tune of “98,020 U.S. non-manufacturing jobs, including 65,830 U.S. installer jobs.” (It argues that the SEIA’s job projections are flawed.)
Legally, Suniva still has to persuade the ITC that it is “representative” of the industry as a whole in order for the commission to take the case and ultimately refer it to the desk of President Donald Trump, who has vowed a hard line on unfair Chinese trade practices.
That will be difficult, according to news reports, especially considering financial factors that have come to light as the case has dragged on.
According to Bloomberg, one U.S. installation company’s submission to the ITC included a copy of a letter from SQN Capital, Suniva’s largest creditor, suggesting that it would stop bankrolling Suniva’s case if it were able to sell off $55 million in Suniva equipment to Chinese solar-cell producers. SQN’s CEO told Bloomberg that the letter was simply a response to a Chinese chamber of commerce’s inquiry. He said the company is not pursuing such a sale and that U.S. industry should be protected.
Suniva also faces the ironic fact that the Chinese company that bought it in 2015, Shunfeng Internatonal Clean Energy Ltd., opposes its trade action.
Read more on the trade dispute and Suniva here: Atlanta’s Suniva Falls Victim to Complexities of U.S.-China Trade