From Green Right Now Reports

The U.S. Department of Commerce decision to hit Chinese solar panel makers with significant import tariffs has shaken up the solar community.

A solar panel installation on a Walmart in California.

Bonn-based SolarWorld, which maintains the largest U.S. solar manufacturing plant and had asked for an investigation of Chinese “dumping” of solar panels, was pleased with Wednesday’s ruling. The anti-dumping fees — ranging up to nearly 36 percent — announced by the government will help level the playing field between U.S. and Chinese-manufactured photovoltaic cells and panels, a company official said.

In Oct. 2011, SolarWorld filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission, accusing Chinese solar companies of undermining the market by dumping under-priced solar cells and panels in the U.S. in an effort to win market dominance. The company contended that China’s “massive production overcapacity and government-funded export drive” was destroying the solar industry and had forced layoffs and factory closings in the U.S..

SolarWorld cited the closure of at least 14 domestic crystalline silicon solar producers, and several more producers of newer, thin-film solar technologies. (China, SolarWorld noted, also experienced losses as prices fell, but the nation bailed out its solar companies.) SolarWorld, which employs about 3,000 people, manufactures photovoltaic panels and parts at factories in Hillsboro, Ore., and Freiburg, Germany.

SolarWorld’s action, supported by the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), was viewed as a bold step by others in the U.S. solar industry. Many rooftop solar installers and residential leasing companies, whose businesses had been boosted by the flood of inexpensive panels from China, were dubious of the intervention in the markets and raised concerns that the trade dispute could hurt business.

Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), said his group is concerned about he effects of the “growing global trade war, which will only hurt American solar industry jobs, growth and consumers.”

“We are gratified that the scope of today’s decision is limited only to solar cells made in China and that the Department did not significantly increase the tariff from its preliminary decision in May. We are hopeful that continued innovations in technology, a competitive global marketplace, and demand-generated pressure for lower prices will take precedence moving forward,” Shah said in a statement.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) also has expressed mixed feelings about the effect of the duties on Chinese-U.S. solar power relationships.

“While today’s decision rightly shows that the U.S. will protect its rights in the global trading system, we’re also learning that trade litigation alone is not enough to solve the complex challenges that exist between the U.S. and China. What is immediately clear is that for solar to thrive globally, there is a need to build consensus on acceptable forms of government support for industry,” said Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), in a statement.

“Prior to these trade cases, the U.S. and Chinese solar industries enjoyed a strong, productive working relationship,” Resch continued. “For both sides to succeed going forward, we must return to our collaborative roots at both the industry and government levels.

Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc., maintained in a statement that “only fair competition” can fuel the efficiency that will drive down costs for the end user.

“Commerce’s decision raises the industry’s chances of reclaiming equal footing for domestic, sustainable and environmentally sound solar-technology producers and their jobs,” Brinser said.

The anti-dumping duties called for the by Commerce Department would be set at a 31.73 percent on imports of solar photovoltaic cells and panels from Suntech; 18.32 percent from Trina Solar and 25.96 percent from other companies that had requested but not received individual duty determinations.

The fees would be 249.96 percent for all other Chinese producers, including those controlled by the Chinese government.

These duties will go into effect if the ITC makes a final determination that Chinese dumping should be ameliorated in the U.S..

The ITC decision is expected Nov. 7.

SolarWorld, which has been publicly traded since 1999, reports that it has invested a cumulative $610 million in manufacturing in Oregon, without any federal subsidies.