WASHINGTON -- The U.S. has decided to slap tariffs of 31% and higher on solar panels imported from China for “dumping” them in the American market, the Commerce Department announced Thursday in a widely anticipated decision expected to have significant implications for this global renewable energy industry.
After determining that Chinese solar panel businesses dumped their goods – that is, sold them at below a fair-market value – the Commerce Department said in a preliminary ruling that it would levy a duty of 31% to about 60 Chinese firms, including Suntech, the world’s largest solar-panel maker. All other Chinese exporters of solar cells face a tariff of 250%.
The stiff tariffs are much more than what many industry executives and analysts were expecting.
In March, the Commerce Department levied a modest 2.9% to 4.7% tariff on Chinese solar-panel imports after finding that the Chinese government provided illegal subsidies for its industry.
Those tariffs were seen as modest and unlikely to have much of an effect on the growing solar energy market in the U.S. And Chinese companies and government officials largely took that decision in stride. But the anti-dumping duty could have widespread repercussions in both the global production of solar cells and the growth of solar panel installations in the U.S.
Over just a few years, China has grabbed about half of the U.S. market for solar panels. U.S. imports of Chinese solar cells were valued at about $3.1 billion last year.
U.S. developers and installers of solar panels have generally welcomed the cheaper Chinese panels, saying they’ve helped make solar installation more affordable to businesses and homeowners. But U.S. maker SolarWorld Industries America Inc., which filed the complaint that launched the Commerce Department investigation, and their supporters argued that China’s pricing of the panels cost American manufacturing jobs and also threatened U.S. leadership in an important clean-energy area. Some members of Congress have proposed narrowing the U.S. tax credit for solar panels by requiring American content in them.
Employment in the U.S. solar energy industry reached about 100,000 last year, more than doubling from two years earlier and more than five times the employment in 2006, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Assn. and the Solar Foundation. A little more than half of these workers last year were involved in the solar installation business, while about one-fourth worked in manufacturing and the remainder in sales and distribution, according to a Solar Foundation study.
The new tariffs apply to Chinese-made solar cells, the primary component in panels, whether the panels are made in China or some other country.