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|Articles - Jan/Feb 2012|
|Thursday, January 19, 2012|
Page 1 of 2
By Lee van der Voo
On the other side of the debate about China’s aggressive push into the U.S. solar market is this: exports.
They were a bright spot on the Oregon economy in 2010, with international trade growing by 19% on nearly $18 billion in foreign sales. Nearly 5,000 Oregon companies export goods and services internationally. In September, Gov. John Kitzhaber touted many on a trade mission to Asia, stumping for Nike, Intel, wheat growers, motorcycle makers, even boat-paddle craftsmen.
China is the state’s largest trading partner, gobbling a whopping $4 billion, or 22%, of Oregon exports last year, up from $807 million in 2005. But with allegations of product dumping by China made by SolarWorld, the German company with U.S. operations and 1,000 employees in Hillsboro, and other companies in October, some trade experts say they’re worried.
Backlash is already playing out in the renewable energy world, with China making similar accusations about polysilicon dumping by U.S. companies and investigating U.S. subsidies to renewable energy. As it does, concerns about future trade tariffs are reaching beyond the solar industry to other exports.
“At the end of the day, it’s not only about SolarWorld. There are implications downstream and I always worry about the law of unintended consequences,” says Barry Horowitz, a trade expert at Portland-based CMS Consulting Services who accompanied both crab and potato reps to Asia on behalf of the Port of Portland.
As the details of U.S. solar industry’s joust with China evolve, they’re a departure from the sunny stories of four years ago, when Oregon’s budding solar industry was called “a locomotive that has already left the station, and it is accelerating” by former Solaicx CEO Bob Ford. While the industry has grown since, it hasn’t grown as expected.
An October report from the Solar Foundation estimates the industry is tied, in some way, to some 545 companies in Oregon, and supports 3,346 jobs. Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, estimates as many as 8,000 Oregonians are economically dependent on solar manufacturing. The sector includes manufacturers of top brands such as SolarWorld, MEMC (Solaicx) and Sanyo, as well as manufacturers of wafers and inverters, wafer cleaning companies, silicon recyclers and research facilities, and designers of PV tracking systems and test equipment.
Oregon’s semiconductor industry made it easy for solar companies to land here, tapping a workforce with similar talents, along with cheap power, an established supplier network, state incentives and a favorable tax structure. Many of these companies export products, helping bolster Oregon’s standing as eighth in the nation for exported goods.
But Oregon’s solar industry has fallen short of expectations. Some things were achieved: SolarWorld planned to create 1,000 jobs in Oregon by 2010, and did. Oregon also developed a solar feed-in-tariff pilot that, along with incentives and creative financing packages, began vigorously installing rooftop panels. The number of solar manufacturers also grew from three in 2007 to six in 2011. But that’s about half the 11 manufacturers the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department was recruiting in 2008. Solaicx sold to MEMC in 2010, which laid off 100 of its 140 Portland workers in December. There is no more state Business Energy Tax Credit, which once helped lure solar companies here.
While some predicted it would be Oregon’s low hydropower rates that would hamper solar power’s growth in Oregon, few bet that China could upend the sector.
Yet between 2008 and 2010, Chinese exports of solar cells and solar panels to the United States jumped 350%. By July 2011, the country’s exports to the U.S. exceeded the volume of all of solar exports in 2010.
SolarWorld was the first to formally cry foul. SolarWorld is the only company named in a coalition of seven filing antidumping petitions Oct. 19 with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission, asking for tariffs on Chinese imports, a request that has since provoked an investigation. They charge China’s subsidies to its solar manufacturers are illegal, allowing them to dump solar cells on the U.S. market for less than the cost of making them, driving prices to artificial lows to put competitors out of business.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER
Cylvia Hayes, tabloid vs. watchdog journalism and the looming threat of a Cascadia earthquake.
Thursday, October 02, 2014
Oregon Business magazine has named the sixth annual 100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon.
Friday, November 14, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY
Oregon entrepreneurs reveal their favorite caffeine hangouts.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JOE ROJAS-BURKE
Bans on genetically modified crops create uncertainty for farmers.
Friday, October 24, 2014
How does your workplace stack up against competitors? How can you improve workplace practices to help recruit and retain employees? Find out by taking our 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon survey!
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
A Design Week panel discussion raises questions about how innovative we really are.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
We didn’t intend this issue to have an election season theme. But politics has a way of seeping into the cracks and fissures.
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|Price of already-built homes in Seattle area drops|
|Apple hits record-high value|
|Fed's ability to regulate questioned|
|Budweiser to move away from Clydesdales|
|Mergers lucrative for departing CEOs, but not necessarily shareholders|
Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.
Get ready for two days of special events produced with the EPA, Portland Timbers and ISOS before and after the GoGreen Conference on October 16.
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Rotary’s Oregon Ethics in Business aims to raise consciousness about business ethics by honoring exceptional companies.
Barran Liebman’s annual employment law seminar is an industry classic.
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More than 400 "Change Makers" will gather to invest in a socially sustainable community.