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Power United States China The Courts

Court Rules That Imported Solar Panels Are Bad For US Manufacturing (theverge.com) 364

The International Trade Commission has ruled that American companies are being hurt by cheap solar panels from overseas, providing an opportunity for President Donald Trump to tax imports from countries like China. The Verge reports: Today's unanimous decision ruled that the companies SolarWorld Americans and Suniva were struggling financially not because of their own poor management, but because they couldn't compete with cheap panels from countries like China, Mexico, and South Korea. Suniva is now suggesting import duties of 40 cents a watt for solar cells, and a floor price of 78 cents a watt for panels. (Right now, the average floor price, worldwide, for panels is about 32 cents.) The Solar Energy Industries Association warned that implementing these suggestions could end up doubling the price of solar, thus destroying demand and causing Americans to lose their jobs.
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Court Rules That Imported Solar Panels Are Bad For US Manufacturing

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:31PM (#55248339)

    We'll get those coal miners their jobs back, you just wait and see. #crookedHillaryLoses

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:39PM (#55248369)

      Dream on, coal is dead and is not coming back. Now the US has held back from producing solar technology. Wants to institute protectionism to make up for poor planning. Wait till the wto steps us and says the US is unfairly charging tariffs allowing other countries to charge tariffs too.

      All that are hurt are US citizens. China will sell its solar cells someplace else and US will lose those markets too. Poor planning.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @04:45AM (#55249303)

      Even if you made solar power illegal, it would do absolutely nothing to get the coal miners jobs back. The major reason coal has been killed in the USA is because fracking and other unconventional forms of extraction have made generating power using natural gas more attractive than using coal.

      • Burning coal is not expensive. Mining coal is not expensive. So why cant it compete?

        • by jonwil ( 467024 )

          You would have to ask the power companies that have replaced coal generation with gas generation why they have switched from coal to gas and why it cant compete.

          Its entirely possible that building new gas generators (and burning cheap gas) is cheaper overall than refurbishing coal plants that may be several decades old and need big sums spent on upgrade and then continuing to burn coal in those plants.

    • We'll get those coal miners their jobs back, you just wait and see. #crookedHillaryLoses

      Poe's law in action

      US coal exports are surging
      https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/1... [cnbc.com]

  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:31PM (#55248343)
    After all, what's more important - helping cut the costs to increase adoption and cut CO2 emissions, or getting the third vacation home for some local solar company CEO?
    • by MangoCats ( 2757129 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @11:09PM (#55248673)

      You think this is for the solar CEOs? Man, pull back one layer of onion and I already smell big oil here.

      • I have solar....my house is ~100% solar powered, but I really don't think oil companies are worried about a few solar panels. The US gets ~1% of electricity from solar and oil is not used in electricity generation except a few special circumstances.

        Evergy in the US [wikipedia.org]

        • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @02:26AM (#55249085)

          Oil companies also tend to have their fingers in natural gas (since the same well often gives both), which DOES produce a large portion of electricity in the US.

          • Oil companies also tend to have their fingers in natural gas (since the same well often gives both), which DOES produce a large portion of electricity in the US.

            And in order to produce more natgas, they pump refinery wastes into the ground and shock them, in a process euphemistically called "fracking" — shades of DC Comics' Lobo. They're fracking us all right.

        • I have solar....my house is ~100% solar powered, but I really don't think oil companies are worried about a few solar panels.

          Really? Then explain Florida [wftv.com] in 150 words or less. Go!

          • I also have solar in Austin, and in the summer pay the utility a couple cents/KWH because the city utility no longer does net metering. The pay me for every KWH generated and I pay them for every KWH I consume as if the panels were in some farm somewhere else. In the summer at the higher consumption tiers (>1000KWH/mo) they pay me less per KWH than I pay them. The whole carrot stick of taxation is crazy. So we are going to tariff incoming panels and then give rebates to install panels. Theoretically peop

      • You think this is for the solar CEOs? Man, pull back one layer of onion and I already smell big oil here.

        Why would it? It's not like Oil is used for primary electrical energy in the USA. There's a lot of big polluters here to smell, but oil doesn't really pass the sniff test (pun intended).

    • In America you shouldn't even need to ask. The latter, obviously.

    • I don't want their cheap panels because they're made with borderline slave labor. We can make more than enough panels here just fine while supporting good middle class jobs and doing it without a heavily abused workforce.
  • by DesertNomad ( 885798 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:34PM (#55248353)

    That's all solar is - energy from somewhere else!

  • by spaceman375 ( 780812 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:40PM (#55248373)

    This is a seriously complicated issue. Proper economic modeling can give us a good idea of how to proceed, but political greed will finance whatever spin it may take to move mass opinion in the direction of short term profit for the few people who can afford the spin doctors. Solar futures are now in jeopardy for the US. Sigh.

  • by skam240 ( 789197 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:45PM (#55248397)

    This sounds great until you think of the ramifications of more expensive solar panels

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-... [bbc.com]

    Quite a lot of solar adoption is driven not by a commitment to fighting global warming or pollution in general but by savings. Make the panels more expensive and adoption rates will drop significantly.

    • by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @10:04PM (#55248447)

      Agreed. If it can be proven that imports are subsidized or enjoy some sort of unfair advantage, great....impose a duty. If it's just a matter of local companies not being willing to compete and using government as a cudgel to pad profits...well....fuck 'em....compete or die.

      • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

        From the Detroit Big Three to Harley-Davidson to this, has American industry ever reacted to competition in any other way than to go crying to mama Government for import tariffs?

      • The equation is actually a lot more complicated than that. Forget nationalism; the question is actually whether it's better for the environment to build them here or to permit people to import them from China. I honestly don't know whether making panels with near-slave-labor and no meaningful emissions controls and then using them to replace more fossil fuel use faster is better or worse in terms of environmental impact than making panels with automation and emissions controls here in the states. It's not j

      • This will be true when government completely removes minimum wage laws and deregulates power and other resource production.

    • by thinkwaitfast ( 4150389 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @12:26AM (#55248877)
      Exactly, I've been recently looking into buying another 10+kw for my solar system, especially now that solar panels have fallen below 20cents/w. I'm squeaking by now on 2.5kw, but moar is always better, plus it will give me full power in low light conditions, ie, winter.
    • Except that we are talking about solar panels that priced competitively and overall are far more affordable for the country.
      This companies already exist, they are struggling to be competitive, but are still in the race. Furthermore, the entire point of preferring domestic solar panels is that taken as a whole they are far cheaper.

  • USA! and when it comes down to it we need to cut off china

  • BAD for jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chromaexcursion ( 2047080 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @09:50PM (#55248409)
    There are FAR more people employed in the sale and instillation of solar panel than there are in manufacturing.
    Raising the price of panels will kill those jobs.
    Stupid and shortsighted. Protect a few manufacturing job at companies that can't compete, and lose orders of magnitude more jobs in sales, and instillation.
    The only way US manufacturing can compete is through automation. Which means almost no one will be employed in manufacturing.

    "The International Trade Commission" is a US group, it has no international mandate. Enacting tariffs will result in the affected countries enacting retaliatory tariffs on US made goods. More US jobs lost. "Dumb and Dumber"
    • Re:BAD for jobs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @10:08PM (#55248459)

      Stupid and shortsighted. Protect a few manufacturing job at companies that can't compete

      An import factor here is: who are they competing against? TFS says they can't compete against "cheap" panels from Mexico, China, and *South Korea*. South Korea is NOT a low-cost locale. It's not as expensive for labor as Japan, but it's not cheap either; labor there is surely more expensive than someplace like Alabama. If we can't compete against South Korea on something, that means we're just incompetent, and should throw in the towel.

      • Re:BAD for jobs (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @10:40PM (#55248569)

        South Korea is NOT a low-cost locale ... labor there is surely more expensive than someplace like Alabama.

        Median salary in S. Korea: $29,125
        Median salary in Alabama: $39,180

        Both figures are the result of a 10 second Google search.

        Disclaimer: I think import restrictions on solar panels are idiotic.

        • I imagine median salary is less important than minimum wage when you're talking about factory workers. ~$6.60/hr in SK vs $7.25/hr in US. So basically the same pay depending on currency fluctuations (KRW is down lately)
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            You must take in account that no developed country has the retarded healthcare "system" that USA has. That makes possible to live with a reasonably high quality of life even with lower wages.

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        You forgot two things: One is currency exchange, the other is the import component cost. S.Korea and Canada have two things in common with selling/manufacturing to the US. It's around 30% cheaper in base costs right off the block to make the products there and you get them made at a higher quality then in China.

        It's the same reason you can build a car in Canada, sell it in the US, pay the workers in Canada 25% more then a US autoworker and still get a 270% higher return. Of course these days, the return

    • There are FAR more people employed in the sale and instillation of solar panel than there are in manufacturing. Raising the price of panels will kill those jobs.

      But how many of those jobs are held by US citizens or holders of work visas and how many are "undocumented" aliens?

      Not saying the latter's jobs don't matter. AM saying that, as far as jobs for the US citizen voters who elected Trump on the promise of more jobs for US citizens (and others with legal work status), job losses for that group don't cou

      • But how many of those jobs are held by US citizens or holders of work visas and how many are "undocumented" aliens?

        I would bet that there are far fewer such workers in solar installation than there are in home construction. As in, dramatically fewer. Solar installers tend to be pretty whitey-white.

      • Actually, GP's point about the ITC being a US group was helpful: with "International" in the name, I had assumed it was multinational, possibly under the UN.

        Although, after writing that, I remembered the World Trade Organization, which is the multinational organization.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      ... actually cheap solar is bad for big oil ... I'll just leave it that
    • There are FAR more people employed in the sale and instillation of solar panel than there are in manufacturing.

      If there are currently 1 million homes with rooftop solar panels, and the end-state is 125 million homes (100%) with rooftop solar panels, then wouldn't the amount of labor needed for sales and installation be exactly the same regardless of the time it takes to install panels on 124 million rooftops? Rapid installation of solar panels creates more jobs now, but results in fewer jobs in the future

    • if those foreign solar panels were made with workers that had an equivalent standard of living as the same American? If they breathed clean air, didn't want for clean water and worked 40 hours a week?

      Tariffs can have another effect: forcing countries to compete _fairly_. This isn't a question of one country doing better than another. This is one country willing to abuse it's workers more (China, I'm lookin' at you especially).
  • Why pick on solar? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @10:10PM (#55248461) Journal

    Lots of manufacturing jobs have left the USA because it's more expensive to manufacture here. So why pick on solar? Are the foreign solar companies dumping, or are the foreign governments subsidizing, with the aim of driving US companies out of the market? If so, I see the argument for tariffs, but there's nothing about dumping or subsidies in the ruling as far as I can see.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @10:47PM (#55248597)

      This doesn't make sense to me either. Under WTO rules, retaliation is permitted against dumping and subsidies. But there is no retaliation permitted just for low prices. Domestic producers don't have a "right" to be shielded from competition. Even weirder, the court is setting a "price floor" that seems to prohibit even domestic competition from undercutting incumbent producers.

      • This doesn't make sense to me either. Under WTO rules, retaliation is permitted against dumping and subsidies. But there is no retaliation permitted just for low prices.

        Uh yeah, where do you think those low prices come from? The Chinese government provides subsidies to disruptive industries. You really think that those Chinese companies selling you bits of electronics for a dollar are paying anything like their true shipping cost?

        • Don't forget: the low prices may be correct. The complainers may just be incompetent, which would mean they can't produce panels efficiently and must attempt to sell the panels at a higher price.

          SunPower also manufactures panels in the US. They were not part of this complaint. I just bought panels from them. Their price was higher, but the extra output from their panels more than made up for it.

          If we really wanted to discuss this, we would need prices, efficiency ratings, quality ratings, etc. for all panel

    • by dog77 ( 1005249 )
      Better to slash taxes on businesses, before getting into a trade war. That way we get the best of both; cheaper manufacturing and cheaper imports.
    • Because they are in the pocket of big oil.
  • Will the price of non-domestic panels still be lower than domestic after tariffs?

    Another question is how much the coal/natural gas lobby's have donated to ensure this ruling?

    If we can burn coal, or oil, or natural gas, or corncobs to produce cheap electricity does it really matter? If coal becomes a major energy source, I would expect electrical costs to drop significantly. The price probably won't though, because profit....

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Another question is how much the coal/natural gas lobby's have donated to ensure this ruling?

      I love conspiracy theories, but this one just doesn't fit the facts:

      1. This is a court ruling, not a legislative or regulatory issue, and lobbyists don't talk to judges.
      2. Coal producers are mostly broke, and would be unlikely to benefit much from less solar since no new coal plants are being built. The benefits would mostly go to NG.
      3. The NG industry is dominated by independent frackers who are way too disorganized to effectively lobby for something like this.

      Solar is still less than 1%, Coal and NG h

  • Whine with cheese (Score:3, Informative)

    by WaffleMonster ( 969671 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @10:26PM (#55248511)

    Are Mexico, Canada and South Korea dumping solar panels for less than cost of production? Are they using slave labor? Do employees work in hazardous conditions?

    If not please go fuck yourselves.

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday September 22, 2017 @10:29PM (#55248519)

    For over 50 years now, we've had a stiff tariff on imported light trucks. What was the outcome? The USA is the pickup truck capital of the world.

    It looks like with this tariff, we can eventually be the kings solar panel as well. All we need is the right marketing strategy.

    If we can get people to pay over $60K for a pickup, we can also get them to support solar panels with high profit margins. A good start would be to market "heavy duty" panels and promote them as an enabler of rugged individualism.

    Styling will also be key: for example maybe carbon-fiber frames, menacing hexagonal honeycomb collector grids, and prominent oversized exposed heat sinks on the electronics. Who wouldn't want the most bad-assed roof on their block?

    You never know, people might start installing several times the solar capacity they would ever use just so they can brag about their peak kilowatt capacities.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You’ve never been to Portland, have you?

    • Wow. We're the pickup truck capital of the world? What an amazing and honorable legacy. Something to truly be proud of for centuries to come. All those other nations are idiots for investing in science, education and medical technology. The real long term power is in making pickup trucks.
    • That's just not true.. no one (at least in appreciable numbers) buys US made pickup trucks overseas in general.. so the demand is low.. the US makes most of the vehicles for the north American market (NAFTA anyone?) but outside of that, most countries build their own as its a utility vehicle that has brand association.

      And most of the trucks in the US are not technically imported, they are assembled in Canada/Mexico and the US (either through part replacement schemes, cab shipments, or kits), which classifies them as an American vehicle (ie no import tariffs). But this hurts no one but the consumer since those that don't want to even bother with the hassle they just don't sell them to the US.. (which basically means the US market is a US ONLY market which keeps the prices high because they have zero competition or even incentive to make a better product). Or to put it another way, its a geopolitical monopoly.. and we all know monopolies can be good, but are usually bad because the audience is captive.

      • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday September 23, 2017 @07:45AM (#55249615) Homepage Journal

        Uh no. Most countries do not build their own pickup trucks. They might have pickup trucks built there, but the most popular brands in the world (in order) are Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota. Essentially all the pickup trucks on the planet are made by one of those three companies.

        International popularity of the F-150, Ranger, and Silverado is massive [reddit.com]. I don't know where this myth about American trucks not selling worldwide came from, but it is bullshit [fool.com]. Our pickup trucks are the most popular in the world, because they are the best. People talk a lot of shit about Toyotas but they don't build anything made to do work at the level of an F-Series or even a Silverado. The next step up from a full-size, full-fat American pickup truck like a 3/4 ton or 1 ton diesel is a much heavier vehicle, like a Unimog.

        As for the chicken tax harming American auto buyers, it really hasn't. In fact, arguably, it's done the opposite. In the recent lull in American mid-size truck production, people bought plenty of Japanese mid-size trucks which were actually produced here in the USA. The Chicken Tax actually has helped preserve or even create American jobs! The only vehicles to which it applies are light trucks, and even then only ones for cargo and not for passengers. We've got a 2006 Sprinter T1N and Mercedes has to drop the front subframe and ship the vehicle and the engine+front suspension separately to dodge the tax. But passenger vans just get sent over fully completed, even though they're the same vehicle with holes cut out and windows slapped into 'em. The truth about the chicken tax is that it is not arduous to dodge around its requirements, and also that its requirements only affect a minority of buyers.

        There is one group of people who were harmed slightly by the chicken tax: people who bought Toyota pickups before about 2015 or 2016. I'm not sure which year it was, but in one of those years they finally started sharing drivetrain parts between the HiLux (the international model of pickup) and the American pickups. Parts sharing is important to parts availability, and the HiLux parts in question were also stronger.

    • unless you're an idiot. My buddy bought one for $15k, but 200,000 miles on it, got hit, decided he wanted a Prius and got $10k from the settlement _just_for_the_truck.

      Americans are leaders in light Trucks because they're incredibly well made, cheap and hold their value. Tariffs made that possible because our industry wasn't crushed by the cheap labor of a country willing to abuse it's workers.
      • by mentil ( 1748130 )

        Like Japan and Germany abuse their auto factory workers? Chinese cars are crap, last I looked.

      • by asylumx ( 881307 )

        You don't pay $60k for a pickup truck unless you're an idiot.

        Unfortunately, there are millions of people in this country that fit that description. They have more money than sense, they buy these pickup trucks that can't even fit in a reasonable parking spot, then they complain that they work too hard for what they have, complain about OTHER PEOPLE acting entitled, and they vote for people like Trump...

    • by labnet ( 457441 )

      Waffle Iron is both Mad and Genius at the same time!

    • by indytx ( 825419 )

      If we can get people to pay over $60K for a pickup, we can also get them to support solar panels with high profit margins. A good start would be to market "heavy duty" panels and promote them as an enabler of rugged individualism.

      Styling will also be key: for example maybe carbon-fiber frames, menacing hexagonal honeycomb collector grids, and prominent oversized exposed heat sinks on the electronics. Who wouldn't want the most bad-assed roof on their block?

      "Prepper Panels." You heard it here, first. "Fight off zombies, natural disasters, and the unwashed masses from the comfort of your air conditioned double-wide with PREPPER PANELS!" Oh, boy! Madison Avenue is calling!

  • Well, I know which companies to avoid for solar panels.

    Not my problem you allowed China to take over REE market while you let big oil play the protectionist racket here.

  • Businesses rally behind the "free market" when it suits then, but when that same free market bites them in the ass, they run crying to the government for relief.

    I'm interested to know why costs in the US are so high. One could decry cheap labour from China and Mexico, but in that case, why is South Korea included in the list of countries that are keeping prices down? Moreover, solar panel manufacturing is a largely-automated process, pushing labour costs down even more...

    Sounds like mismanagement to
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Saturday September 23, 2017 @11:24AM (#55250391)

    ... are for the benefit of manufacturers, not the general public.

    Face it. We live inside what is essentially an economic Iron Curtain.

  • Seriously? Lets hurt the solar market to support two companies that can't get lower prices?

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