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First Solar Comes Out in Favor of Import Tariffs

The stance places the biggest U.S. solar manufacturer in opposition to the Solar Energy Industries Association and most of the rest of the industry.

First Solar Inc. is no longer on the sidelines of a trade case that threatens the $29 billion U.S. solar industry, and it’s supporting tariffs on imports.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Widmar said U.S. solar manufacturers face “unfair competition” from rivals in other countries that “underscores the need for a fair and effective remedy,” in a letter to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The stance places the biggest U.S. solar manufacturer in opposition to the Solar Energy Industries Association and most of the rest of the industry. First Solar had previously refrained from taking sides even as the trade group fought vigorously against tariffs, saying they would drive up panel prices and lead to 88,000 job losses, mostly among power-plant developers, installers and suppliers of related hardware.

First Solar criticized the trade group, of which it’s a member, saying it has “not engaged constructively” on the tariff issue. The trade complaint was initiated in April by by Suniva Inc., a Norcross, Ga.-based manufacturer, a week after it filed for bankruptcy.

'Anything But Rational'

“Import prices have been anything but rational, falling much more rapidly than could be explained by cost improvements,” Widmar said in the letter.

Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s chief executive officer, called the accusation “demonstrably false” and said punishing tariffs won’t help the industry overall.

“We hope to work with all parties, including First Solar, to identify solutions that don’t cause tens of thousands of lost American jobs,” Hopper said in an emailed statement.

First Solar uses thin-film technology that’s different from the conventional polysilicon panels that dominate the industry. That makes its products exempt from the trade dispute and the Tempe, Arizona-based company stands to gain from tariffs. President Trump will make the final decision.

“First Solar’s self-serving proposal to impose tariffs on imports of all solar panels except the 2 gigawatts they import from Malaysia, made with subsidies from the Malaysian government, is an egregious affront to the intelligence of the trade commission,” Edward Fenster, chairman of rooftop solar company Sunrun Inc., said in an email Thursday.

By Christopher Martin

TAGS: Trade
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