My Turn: How an obscure trade law could kill 50,000 solar jobs

Friday, 06 October 2017, 06:34:51 AM. Chinese-owned Suniva is using an obscure trade law to ask the government to involve itself in the solar industry - at the expense of American jobs.

My Turn: A Chinese-owned company is asking our government to involve itself in the solar industry - at the expense of American jobs.

Arizona is leading one of America’s fastest growing industries, a technology-based sector growing 17 times faster than the rest of the economy that added 51,000 jobs last year and is expected to triple over the next five years. All of this while helping lower energy costs for consumers.

To say the future is bright for solar energy is an understatement — but the federal government may be headed in a direction that would help investors from China, Germany and Qatar who own failed U.S. companies at the expense of tens of thousands of American workers.

All this would be unbelievable if it wasn’t true. Washington could end up stalling an economic engine and costing workers in Arizona and every other state their jobs.

Trade penalty could double solar's cost

Chinese-owned Suniva used an obscure trade law to ask the government to get directly involved in the U.S. solar market because it says imported parts — especially from Chinese firms — caused its American plants to go bankrupt. Its only backer from industry is a German firm called SolarWorld that is 49 percent owned by a Qatari government-controlled hedge fund.

The last time this trade law was used and the government intervened in the private sector back in the early 2000s, more than 200,000 Americans working in steel and related industries lost their jobs.

That’s why a coalition of strange bedfellows — conservative groups, free-trade advocates, major retail companies, small businesses, utilities, unions and venture capital groups — and more than 80 members of Congress from both parties have sided with a united solar industry represented by the Solar Energy Industries Association in opposition to this petition.

Analysts at Bloomberg and IHS Markit say the trade penalties will double the cost of solar. Basic economics tells us if you increase the cost, demand will fall — and that will hurt virtually everyone across the solar industry. That’s 260,000 American workers and their families.

Arizona impact: 2,000-plus jobs lost

The case has huge consequences. Today, solar is one of the least expensive energy sources in America and was the largest source of new electricity capacity last year. The solar industry created one out of every 50 jobs in America last year.

Using the conservative number, nearly 50,000 solar workers will lose their jobs just next year if the ITC agrees to the tariff proposed by Suniva and SolarWorld.

For Arizona, the case means a lot. Arizona is the third-largest solar state. It grew 31 percent last year. The state has all the elements in place to continue rapid growth for many years. But with tariffs, instead of doubling over the next five years as expected, Arizona’s solar industry will shrink and more than 2,000 jobs will evaporate in months.

Free and fair trade supports the U.S. solar industry’s dramatic growth. Continuing on without government interference will lead to a tripling of U.S. solar capacity by 2022 and bring employment in solar to more than 300,000 workers.

The ITC will make its recommendation to President Trump next month. He can accept or reject the commission’s recommendation, or come up with his own measure.

The very traits that President Trump honors in American industry are the pillars of the American solar industry: massive job creation, including in American manufacturing, innovation that builds competition, affordable energy for every day Americans and economic growth. It would make no sense to derail the industry with tariffs that help two foreign-owned companies at the expense of tens of thousands of Americans.

We hope for workers across America that the ITC and the president do what's best for our economy and our future: allow the market to work and solar to continue to be the great American success story that it is.

Abigail Ross Hopper is president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents more than 1,000 solar installers, project developers, manufacturers, contractors and financiers. Email her at ahopper@seia.org; on Twitter, @SEIA, @HopperAbby.

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Article My Turn: How an obscure trade law could kill 50,000 solar jobs compiled by www.azcentral.com