As the struggle continues for the American solar industry to come to an agreement regarding the devastating economic effects of dumping from foreign companies, two U.S. manufacturers are easing their requests for penalties in hopes to strike a resolution. As an alternative to imposing import solar tariffs, SolarWorld and Suniva are now proposing a licensing fee for all solar imports to balance the pricing competition.
This conflict has risen out of urgency for American solar manufacturers and installers competing in the local market against outside companies. The concern American-based solar companies have is competing for business within their own country against the unrealistic pricing of solar imports. Because of U.S. wage laws, work environment requirements, quality control initiatives, and the safekeeping of product warranties with every solar power generation system (SPGS), American-based companies require a higher overhead in order to stay in business. Countries with less concern for worker’s rights and product quality & durability are able to cut costs to unrealistic prices, which provide an unfair competitive advantage in the solar market.
Because the American consumer is relatively unaware of the current dilemma in the solar industry, foreign companies have been able to step in front of American-based companies and take their business due to the lack of testing and regulation of their products. The purpose for this battle between American manufacturers and their foreign adversaries therefore is not only to level the playing field for business, but also to educate the consumer on the quality and dependability of the solar products they buy. A SPGS is supposed to be a reliable long-term investment, but companies from the outside are often bypassing that reality and selling on retail price alone. Consequently, the consumer often falls prey to the temptation of these lower prices, not realizing the lack of quality they are purchasing or the American companies they are hurting in the process.
Recently Edward Harner, chief operating officer for Green Solar Technologies, joined the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) hearing in Washington D.C. to speak on behalf of SolarWorld in order to make the case for the struggle of American companies to compete against solar imports. “The solar landscape is going to change,” he said. “There will be consolidation and the barrier to entry to the solar business will be higher. But the job loss forecasts are overblown.”
Harner said that should solar import tariffs be put in place, the module price will return to where it was in 2014-15. “We did fine two years ago and solar kept growing. The module price is only a small part of the system price. Even if the price goes up 50% because of tariffs, a typical 4 kW system, with incentives, will go up less than 7%. Payback will only go from 6 years to 7 or 8 years, and that is not significant enough to make solar a bad investment.”
Perhaps if imposing solar important tariffs or even a licensing fee doesn’t resolve the issue, the ITC should consider a positive reinforcement. Instead of essentially punishing foreign solar companies for what many would regard as cheating to stay in business, the ITC may want to reward American-based companies more for upholding workers’ rights, the quality of their products, and the long-term reliability of their customers’ investments. A way to do this would be to increase the incentive for American consumers to buy American and to make foreign companies not applicable for these incentives. This could be implemented in the way of qualifying only American-made products for the 30% Federal Tax Incentive or perhaps enrolling an automatic cash-back program for Americans who buy American solar. This would ease the tension regarding solar imports and effectually help American-based companies without hurting the solar industry as a whole—a win-win scenario! It would also encourage foreign companies to rethink their standards of business and the quality of the products and services they provide.
Regardless of what resolution is decided upon, the solar industry in America needs to come together and look to new horizons in order to continue growing into the 21st century. Perhaps when all is said and done, the American consumer will vote with their dollars on the solar energy products they expect. Perhaps they will be educated enough to know the difference and choose only high-end products that were brought to them through humane conditions with solid warranties. We at Green Solar Technologies are confident in the American-made products we provide and as long as we do our job spreading the truth about the quality and dependability of what we offer, we believe the customer will continue to look to the sun and go solar with us.
by Ged Friedman