SolarWorld AG is leading a fight to put tariffs on solar panels from China to counteract Chinese state subsidies.The German company with headquarters in Oregon has described its case as a patriotic issue for Americans. “The mission that we have is to build products here in America, for America’s community, for America’s energy independence, and really leave the world a better place,” SolarWorld’s head of American operations Gordon Brinser told NPR.
What gets little attention, however, is SolarWorld’s once lucrative partnership with one of those cheap Chinese manufacturers.
A FT Deutscheland article in 2009 drew attention to SolarWorld’s business in China [our translation]:
While Asbeck is singing high praises about German quality manufacturing, he is pursuing his luck in far away Asia. According to estimates by Commerzbank, SolarWorld will have 20 per cent of its solar modules made by Chinese manufacturer Suntech — and sell the products under the brand name Solarworld. It’s good business. After all, production costs are significantly lower in China.
Significant dealings with China continued as recently as last year, according to Jigar Shah, the founder of SunEdison. Shah told us that SolarWorld imported Chinese components to a joint venture in Korea, which the company operated from 2008 to 2011.
This all seems problematic for a company leading the campaign against Chinese “dumping.”
But SolarWorld sees its past dealings as irrelevant to the case before the US Commerce Department.
SolarWorld told us: “As a fast-growing vertically integrated solar manufacturer, SolarWorld has occasionally entered into limited and temporary tolling agreements with companies in a variety of countries. Many of these tolling agreements are for raw material inputs. While any tolling agreements that we have are confidential, we can confirm that Solar World in the Americas has never entered into tolling arrangements in China to manufacture solar cells or modules for the US market.”
SolarWorld is opposed in the US by the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, which released a report yesterday warning that tariffs on Chinese solar panels would shatter the US solar industry, which revolves around installation and sales rather than production.
Today the Commerce Department issued a preliminary ruling in favour of SolarWorld, saying it might impose retroactive tariffs on a wave of Chinese exports that came ahead of its March 2 decision on tariffs.
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