Bay Area solar companies praise tarriff decision

SAN JOSE, Calif.

U.S. Commerce officials decided Tuesday to impose a 4.7 percent tariff on solar panels imported from China as part of an ongoing dispute over illegal subsidies and dumping. That news dominated a major solar trade show underway in San Jose. There were lots of smiles at the PV America Solar Trade Show because of that tariff decision, but there is always concern that any sanctions against China could trigger a possible trade war.

One company among dozens of American solar panel manufacturers stuck its neck out to file the complaint last fall. SolarWorld claimed unfair Chinese competition forced it to close a plant and lay off workers. "We were put in the position where, for efficiency reasons, we needed to close our Camarillo, California plant, which is a plant that continuously manufactured since the late 1970s and which we had modernized to the tune of about $40 million," said Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Rhone Resch.

Ironically, American subsidiaries of Chinese-owned solar companies will benefit from the new tariffs as they build factories in the U.S. "I think this is a good wake-up call for the U.S. government as well as the Chinese government, that it's time to get together to make sure we have markets growing for solar in both countries," Resch said.

The U.S. will now send teams to China to do additional fact-finding. The Commerce Department is also scheduled to rule in May or June on complaints that China is dumping low-cost photo-voltaic panels in the U.S. Despite concerns the dispute will escalate into a U.S. China trade war, solar companies are pushing ahead to innovate and capture more business.

CSUN unveiled a new thin solar panel that replaces windows at a major train station in Nanjing, China. And, Boston-based American Capital Energy was showing off a new solar system it installed at a hydroponic tomato grower in Southern California. Water runoff heats the greenhouses and creates energy. "We're taking the water out of the pond, putting it through a solar thermal system, which is heating the water. Geothermal at that location could get the water temperature to 140 degrees. With the system we designed, we're able to get the water to 180 degrees," a spokesperson explained.

Tuesday's tariff decision on Chinese solar panels and other sanctions possible down the road are causing a lot of concern and may take a year to play out. American solar companies are hoping that will give negotiators time to hammer out some sort of agreement to level the playing field.

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