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Wyden: How to stop China's solar-power takeover

Should the U.S. tax cheap imports of subsidized Chinese solar panels to protect the budding solar industry in the U.S.?

Should the U.S. tax cheap imports of subsidized Chinese solar panels to protect the budding solar industry in the U.S.?

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden doesn’t want to see the U.S. replace its reliance on oil from the Middle East oil with dependence on Chinese solar panels. But he’s afraid that’s what’s happening as China subsidizes solar-panel products and undercuts the prices U.S. manufacturers can offer.

Without some swift action from the U.S., he says, China could take over the solar industry and make the budding solar companies here “disappear.”

Wyden sent a letter asking President Obama to impose tariffs on Chinese solar panel imports to the U.S. to level the playing field for American producers. If Obama won’t do it, Wyden wrote that he is prepared to push legislation that would protect the solar industry from “unfair trade.”

The recent bankruptcy of California-based Solyndra and consolidation of SolarWorld underscore the frailty of the U.S. solar industry. And there’s evidence that cheap Chinese imports are having ripple effects throughout the industry, Wyden wrote:

“Advanced producers – whether they are American, Japanese or European – are losing market share in almost every growing market to Chinese producers. Chinese imports of solar panels are surging and are on pace to increase 240 percent this year, compared to 2010. Furthermore, imports of Chinese solar panels increased 1,593-percent between 2006 and 2010. We need only look at the bankruptcies of major American innovators and producers of solar panels to see the material injury these imports appear to be inflicting on our domestic industry. Unless the U.S. takes aggressive action to combat the import surge of Chinese solar panels and the unfair trade practices that China employs, our efforts to facilitate the creation of the new jobs our economy needs will be substantially undermined.”

The tools to do the job are already in the President’s hands, Wyden wrote:

“Mr. President, U.S. trade laws provide your administration with ample tools to address unfair imports from China. The Department of Commerce has the authority to self-initiate an investigation into whether to apply anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Chinese imports of solar panels to remedy unfair practices. Second, as you know, pursuant to the conditions the U.S. placed in China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, under section 421 of the Trade Act, the U.S. may impose tariff safeguards on surging Chinese imports that disrupt U.S. industry. You utilized this safeguard when you imposed temporary tariffs on Chinese tires. Furthermore, China’s subsidization of solar panel production provides the grounds for your Trade Representative to pursue litigation at the World Trade Organization. I urge you to work with the domestic industry and to quickly use these authorities to prevent an industry from being decimated by unfair, foreign competition.”

The question of whether to tax cheap imports that compete with domestic products isn’t a new dilemma. But the solar industry is beloved by renewable energy advocates and reliant on uncertain subsidies as it gets off the ground. What do you think about protecting the U.S. solar industry from cheap Chinese imports? It’s close to home here in Oregon as SolarWorld consolidates its manufacturing in Hillsboro and SoloPower starts building its new flexible solar panel manufacturing plant in Portland. He doesn’t say it explicitly in his letter, but maybe that’s why Wyden’s piping up on the issue?

Ron Wyden Solar power SolarWorld SoloPower

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