Mayor warns solar tariffs 'may hurt' American jobs

Updated: 2012-10-05 00:55

By ARIEL TUNG in New York (China Daily)

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US tariffs on imports of Chinese-made solar cells for electricity could put American jobs at risk and discourage investment by China, the mayor of a small Arizona city told federal regulators on Wednesday in support of a Phoenix business group's complaint.

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council, or GPEC, which represents about 160 companies, filed a letter of protest with the US Commerce Department and the US International Trade Commission in July over the duties on Chinese-made photovoltaic cells and modules.

More than 9,000 jobs in Arizona are related to renewable-energy companies and utility-scale power projects.

The state was ranked third in the US for installed solar capacity by the Department of Energy.

On Wednesday, Mayor Georgia Lord of Goodyear, Arizona, who is a member of the GPEC board, was the elected public office-holder at the hearing.

"Many of Goodyear's economic development efforts center on solar or foreign direct investment," she testified. "As a small city located in a foreign-trade zone, we want more Suntechs — not less."

China-based Suntech Power Holdings Co, the world's biggest maker of solar panels by output, has a manufacturing plant in Goodyear, a city of fewer than 70,000 people. The plant employs more than 100 engineers and technicians.

According to GPEC, Suntech each month produces 15,000 solar panels, which are used in providing electricity to about 10,000 American homes per year.

The ITC has been investigating whether the US solar-cell industry has been harmed by alleged dumping and unfair subsidies of Chinese-made panels.

The commission has said it will announce it's final decision in November.

In May, the Commerce Department announced preliminary tariffs of up to 250 percent on imports of Chinese solar cells.

The US government also slapped subsidy-fighting duties on Chinese solar producers in March, following allegations from SolarWorld AG of Germany that Chinese producers were able to sell their goods cheaply because of government subsidies.

A study by consulting firm the Brattle Group found that the duties will affect US demand for solar energy, resulting in substantial job losses. The report estimates that a 100 percent tariff would result in nearly 50,000 job losses in the US by 2014.

The GPEC fears that the tariffs could create the perception in China that the US doesn't welcome its investment. According to the group, about 12 Chinese companies have identified the Phoenix area as a possible location for their solar projects with an investment of $400 million.

Tom Gutierrez, CEO of GT Advanced Technologies Inc, a New Hampshire-based company that supplies China with equipment used in manufacturing solar panels and their polysilicon components, said the tariffs artificially raise prices and do not help the long-term goal of reducing costs."

It damages the long-term future of the solar industry," said Gutierrez.

About 90 percent of GT's business is in Asia, mostly China. Its customers include leading Chinese solar companies such as Yingli Green Energy Holding Co and LDK Solar Co.

In late 2011, a group of US companies formed the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, or CASE, to oppose the tariffs. CASE mainly consists of companies that install Chinese-made solar panels.

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