"Senators want Obama to dim solar trade"
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski paid a visit Friday to U.S. SolarWorld’s Hillsboro headquarters, touring the facility and meeting with some of the employees of the country’s largest solar cell producer. But the visit wasn’t just to celebrate the power of the Sun, but to shine a light on a myriad of alleged trade violations by the Chinese government and its burgeoning solar industry.
SolarWorld Hillsboro President Gordon Brinser leads Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) through the basics of a solar panel production. (Photo by Michal Thompson, The Argus)
By Kurt Eckert
The Hillsboro Argus
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Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski paid a visit Friday to U.S. SolarWorld’s Hillsboro headquarters, touring the facility and meeting with some of the employees of the country’s largest solar cell producer.
But the visit wasn’t just to celebrate the power of the Sun, but to shine a light on a myriad of alleged trade violations by the Chinese government and its burgeoning solar industry.
Global demand for solar technology is rising, yet the American producers’ share of the U.S. and foreign markets is on the decline, Wyden said.
Wyden says the Office of the United States Trade Representative uncovered evidence of the Chinese government’s efforts to subsidize its green energy industries and notified the World Trade Organization Oct. 6. Under WTO obligations, China is supposed to notify the body of its subsidy programs, but frequently fails to fulfill this important obligation.
The global export market for solar goods nearly quadrupled from 2006 to 2010. During that period of time, China’s exports did not just keep up with rapidly growing global demand, but grew fivefold. Meanwhile, nearly every global leader of solar energy technology production lost export market share to China.The recent bankruptcy of California-based Solyndra and recent consolidation of two U.S. SolarWorld plants into one are indicative of this imbalance, he said.Replacing reliance on Middle East oil with Chinese solar panels could be economically disastrous, as China’s subsidized labor market allows it to undercut the prices U.S. and European manufacturers can offer, Wyden says.
The effect on industry is far-reaching. Representatives for Oregon Electric and the state office of economic development said the decrease in solar exports hurts energy markets, as well as the producers of the aluminum framing for the panels.U.S. solar panel component imports from China this year may far exceed the import level of 2010. Imports of solar cells and modules have rapidly increased since 2006. The spike has been even greater thus far in 2011.
Looking at the broader global measure of solar and solar-related electrical component exports reveals a striking trend that is consistent with the experience of the U.S., which had a trade deficit in these goods in 2010 that was over 500 percent greater than the 2006 deficit level.
Wyden urged something be done to level the playing field.
“The rules mean something,” he said. “We need a rules-based system.”
There is no reason to pass new legislation, because the U.S. already has strong laws ensuring the restoration of unfair trading balances, he said.
The ramped-up production of renewable energy technology — particularly photovoltaic solar — is consistent with goals found by studying China’s five-year plans.
Providing a myriad of government subsidies encouraging the production and export of solar cells and modules — the primary components of solar panels — supports their sale at below-market prices, making it possible for Chinese companies to stay ahead of their foreign competitors.
“It’s one thing if you get beat in a fair fight,” Wyden said. “It’s quite another when someone isn’t playing within the rules.”
These trends are consistent with earlier analysis conducted Wyden’s office, which in December 2010 issued a report demonstrating that while the global demand for environmentally friendly goods is rapidly on the rise, leading producers and exporters of these goods have been on the decline.
China’s gains in the clean energy industry — particularly solar — are coming at the expense of American and other world producers of this technology, who would otherwise benefit from the increased global demand, Wyden says.
SolarWorld has been the largest U.S. solar manufacturer for more than 35 years, said President Gordon Brinser. In its innovation, performance and environmental track record, the company is an industry leader.
SolarWorld’s 97-acre campus in Hillsboro houses the equivalent of four production plants. The company employs about 1,000 people operating all stages of the photovoltaic value chain, from raw material silicon to solar products — crystallizing silicon, cutting the crystal into wafers, turning wafers into solar cells and assembling the panels — so that it can uphold high standards at every stage, Brinser said.
Production in Hillsboro supplies demand in the United States, Canada and Latin America.