How will the Commerce Department's recent preliminary determination on solar import tariffs affect U.S. industry? During today's OnPoint, Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy, reacts to the Obama administration's decision and explains why he believes, despite a decision in favor of modest tariffs, the ruling is not a victory for the primary petitioner, SolarWorld.
Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy. Jigar, thanks for coming on the show.
Jigar Shah: My pleasure.
Monica Trauzzi: Jigar, the Commerce Department has made its preliminary determination on the countervailing duties investigation of solar imports from China and they've overruled to impose duties with margins ranging from 2.9 to 4.73 percent. Let's start off by having you sort of just walk us through what this broadly means for the industry.
Jigar Shah: Well, thanks for having me on. I think that, you know, any tariffs are bad for the industry, because any tariffs actually lead to higher module prices, which means that solar is a little bit less cost effective. But if we had to have tariffs, I mean, this is really good news for the U.S. solar industry and the hundred thousand people that work in it.
Monica Trauzzi: This is considered a small tariff number.
Jigar Shah: Yeah.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you anticipate impacts on the industry as a result of this and in the time period between now and May when Commerce will make its final decision, could we see that number change at all?
Jigar Shah: Well, module prices have gone up substantially in the last 60 to 90 days because of the threat of this ruling. Today, module prices are higher in the United States than they are in Europe by about 10 percent. And so, hopefully, this actually gets people to calm down a little bit and gets module prices going down again in the United States. I think that, you know, the Department of Commerce has a history of not increasing tariffs in the final determination, so we're hopeful that they don't do so here.
Monica Trauzzi: But does this preliminary ruling gives clarity or is there a lot still left in doubt from here until May?
Jigar Shah: Well, you know, partial clarity, right? I mean, you know, round one. I think we've got the anti-dumping ruling in May and then you've got the final rulings at the end of the year. And so we have a process that will go throughout 2012. But this is good news, because it gives us an insight as to sort of how the Department of Commerce's data collection efforts are going.
Monica Trauzzi: The Solar Energy Industries Association has said if the margins stay at the proposed level, there shouldn't be a material impact on the U.S. market. And they're really representing companies on either side of this discussion. Would you agree with that?
Jigar Shah: Yeah. I mean, I think that when you see the companies that are affected by this - in general any tariff is bad, but this a low one. So I think that we will have very minor impacts to the industry at this level. I think from the Solar Energy Industries Association point of view, you know, they represent roughly all 100,000 workers. We represent around 97,000 of them, so we're pretty ecstatic. Pretty ecstatic about this ruling.
Monica Trauzzi: What does this tell China? What message does this send to China?
Jigar Shah: Well, it's not about what it sends to China. It's about what it sends to SolarWorld and the folks that sent forward the petition. They were claiming that there was systematic subsidization of the solar industry by the Chinese government. The Department of Commerce agreed to actually review the data to see whether this was true or not. And I think what the Department of Commerce's decision has shown is that, in fact, the data came out that it was marginal, that there was some small amount of subsidization, but nothing to write home about.
Monica Trauzzi: So, you don't think this is a victory for SolarWorld? Do you see this as a victory for your side?
Jigar Shah: Well, there's no sides here, right? There's 100,000 workers in the U.S. industry who toil every day to figure out how we actually reach the president's goal of increasing the amount of renewable energy in this country. And I think that by keeping the tariffs down we're all winners, because it means that the 1.8 gigawatts of solar that got installed last year and the 2.8 gigawatts, which will be roughly $11 billion this year, will most likely be achieved. And, in fact, we might even beat those goals, because these tariffs came in a lot lower than we expected.
Monica Trauzzi: So, what are the next steps for your organization, CASE, heading into this final decision in May?
Jigar Shah: Well, what we've been doing is educating the power brokers in Washington, as well as a lot of the interested parties in Wall Street and other places around how this process works and what our key intervention steps really are. And so we're going to continue to do that, to try to make sure that we have every chance of keeping the price of modules down in this country, so that we can increase the amount of solar that we install in this country.
Monica Trauzzi: Ahead of Commerce's announcements SEIA announced a new initiative that would sort of facilitate the dialogue between companies and countries and also links them up with the Chinese industry organization for solar. Has there been a lack of dialogue and communication between the companies in your industry and do you think this kind of facilitation needs to happen?
Jigar Shah: Well, the solar industry installed $90 billion of equipment last year in 2011, right? That's double the amount of equipment that was installed for the new coal industry, right? And so, clearly, we've started pissing people off and so there's a lot of folks who actually want to create a trade war globally around clean energy. And it's important for companies and trade associations to start talking to each other so that we can head off this trade war globally, whether it's with the U.S. and China or whether it involves India, Korea, Philippines, Malaysia and other countries. And so I think it's a great thing that SEIA is doing this, because we want to make sure that people view this as a positive for the world and for its people as opposed to a place where we can start bickering around, you know, trade and protectionism.
Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.
Jigar Shah: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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