Sponsored by Lane Powell

Clouds over solar power

| Print |  Email
Articles - Jan/Feb 2012
Thursday, January 19, 2012

 

0112_Solar_01
Making a solar panel at the manufacturing facility in Hillsboro.

Indeed, China’s push for a place in the U.S. solar market has been aggressive. And during its ramp-up, seven U.S.-based solar companies have closed or downsized over the 18 months that prices fell, with layoffs at five others. Those include some of the nation’s biggest players. BP Solar cited the global market when laying off 320 in Frederick, Md., in March 2010 and moving manufacturing to China and India. Evergreen Solar blamed China for its plant shutdown and layoff of 800 in Devens, Mass., before also sending manufacturing overseas. SolarWorld’s Ben Santarris, who is coordinating the company’s trade case, says SolarWorld closed its commercial hub in Camarillo, Calif., in September, laying off 186 workers. Santarris says American-based solar manufacturers can compete with Chinese companies on price, and possibly have an advantage: China’s low-wage workforce doesn’t compensate for the cost of importing raw materials and shipping products back to the U.S.

The coalition’s push for government intervention, called the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing or CASM, is an attempt to save the solar industry in the United States, Santarris says, with benefits for Oregon and beyond.

“If we don’t prevail in the filing, then much, if not all, of the Western operators will go out of business,” says Santarris. “I don’t see how anybody could make a case that this is good for the marketplace, energy security, for the environment, or the economy long term.”

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden supported the coalition’s petitions, and the Department of Commerce could place tariffs on Chinese solar imports as early as March. The senators say the move is in part an attempt to bolster a renewable energy future for the United States. They also say maintaining solar is critical to the Oregon economy.

Merkley, who pressed the World Trade Organization for more oversight of China’s trade practices last fall, doesn’t want the Oregon solar industry to become another casualty of unfair trade, like Oregon’s paper mills, driven out of business in part by Chinese demand for recycled paper. In the steel industry, American manufacturers have made claims that echo those in solar: The Chinese government subsidizes its now massive steel industry and makes it difficult to compete.

But the irony of a German company fighting for free trade in the United States isn’t lost on some, who fear potential for fallout in the form of rising prices or increased tariffs in the trade world.

That criticism is voiced even within the solar industry, where U.S.-based manufacturers reliant on Chinese components have formed their own coalition to push back against CASM, called the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE). They argue cheaper products make for faster solar adaptation by consumers and a more robust market. On Dec. 20, the coalition sent a letter formally asking CASM to stand down. Players in Oregon’s solar industry are also divided.

For companies selling into the Chinese market, the mantra is: “A trade war that starts setting up tariffs and all the rest of it will cut into our sales and our opportunities in China,” says Norm Eder, executive director of Oregon’s Manufacturing 21 Coalition, which advocates for industry. From their perspective, “they sure as heck don’t want to have a trade war,” says Eder, even as companies who compete directly with China cheer CASM’s efforts and scrutiny into Chinese subsidies.

While some of Oregon’s larger export industries look on, those in lumber and logs, forest products, wheat and potatoes say they aren’t worried yet, and aren’t sure they should be.

The potential for backlash, however, is not a small concern for the likes of Horowitz, who notes that while much of Oregon’s GDP comes from exports — the vast majority from computer, electronic and agricultural products — unintended consequences lurk.

“Nobody knows what the other side might do in retaliation,” he says.



 

More Articles

Business partnerships: taming the three-headed monster

Contributed Blogs
Monday, July 06, 2015
070615-businessmarriagefail-thumbBY KATHERINE HEEKIN | OB GUEST COLUMNIST

Picking a business partner is not much different than choosing a spouse or life partner, and the business break-up can be as heart-wrenching and costly as divorce.


Read more...

100 Best Green Workplaces announced

News
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
OBM-100-best-Green-logo-2015-1000pxwBY LINDA BAKER | EDITOR

More than 250 people turned out today for Oregon Business magazine’s seventh annual celebration of the 100 Best Green Companies to Work For in Oregon.


Read more...

No Boundaries

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Floor plans embrace the great wide open.


Read more...

Nine lives

Linda Baker
Friday, May 22, 2015
0f4f7bfBY LINDA BAKER | EDITOR

Roy Kaufmann always lands on his feet.


Read more...

The Green Paradox

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY EMILY LIEDEL

Inside the topsy-turvy world of corporate sustainability rankings.


Read more...

Biker dreams

The Latest
Friday, May 15, 2015
bike at ater wynn-thumbBY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

The Portland Bureau of Transportation is seeking input from businesses on a $5.5 million initiative to create a network of biking, transit and pedestrian trails within Portland’s central city.


Read more...

100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

As momentum grows at the state level to introduce far-reaching environmental regulations, such as carbon pricing and the Clean Fuels Program, Oregon employers continue to go the extra mile to create green workplaces for their employees.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS