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SolarWorld AG (SWV.XE), flanked by both U.S. senators from Oregon, said Wednesday it has filed a petition with six other companies with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission alleging that Chinese manufacturers have been dumping solar panels on the U.S. market and that the Chinese government has been providing illegal subsidies to its solar-power manufacturing industry, which has injured U.S. manufacturers.
SolarWorld, based in Germany, operates solar-panel manufacturing facilities in Oregon and is one of the largest solar-panel suppliers in the U.S. The company recently shut down one of its Oregon facilities, laid off more than 150 workers and reassigned others to its remaining factory.
Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld's U.S. unit, said the company, which has been making silicon-based solar panels for years, "can compete with anyone in the world." However, "illegal subsidies in China" have prompted "the Chinese solar industry to come in and gut and own the U.S. solar industry," Brinser said, speaking at a press conference in Washington.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D, Ore.) said that, while U.S. demand for solar power has been "skyrocketing," the "American solar industry has been collapsing."
"There seems to be one primary explanation for this: That China is cheating," Wyden said, speaking at the press conference.
The petition filed Wednesday by Solar World and six other companies alleges that Chinese dumping margins exceed 100% and that Chinese solar-product manufacturers are receiving "massive illegal subsidies from the Chinese government...to advance the exports of Chinese manufacturers."
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D, Ore.) said Chinese government-backed banks extended $25 billion in loans to large solar-product manufacturers last year, "at fixed, subsidized rates" and with "relaxed restrictions."
Merkley said the U.S. Trade Representative's office has found 200 illegal subsidies provided by Chinese governments to Chinese manufacturers, with several of them in the renewable-energy sector and in the solar-power sector.
The petitions allege that China is required to report such subsidies to the World Trade Organization, but has failed to do so.
Among the $25 billion in loans made by Chinese government-backed banks to Chinese solar companies were $12 billion in loans made to Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP, K3ND.SG) and $4.4 billion in loans extended to Trina Solar Ltd. (TSL, K3KD.SG) that have allowed those companies to quickly scale up their Chinese manufacturing operations, Merkley said.
Among the long list of illegal subsidies that SolarWorld alleges the Chinese government has provided to that country's manufacturers is manipulation of the nation's currency, said Timothy Brightbill, an attorney with Wiley Rein LLP, who is working with the SolarWorld on the petitions.
SolarWorld has asked that the Commerce Department put duties on Chinese solar cells and modules made with crystalline silicon, "to offset the amount of unfair pricing and massive subsidies," Brightbill said.
The case excludes thin-film solar panels made with cadmium telluride--such as those made in the U.S. by First Solar Inc. (FSLR)--and panels made with copper indium gallium selenide, as well as panels made from amorphous silicon. The case also excludes other solar-power technologies, such as solar-thermal power products and concentrated solar-power products, SolarWorld said.
Asked whether SolarWorld has found other U.S. solar-panel makers to join its petition, Brinser said he thinks "more companies will join in the days and weeks ahead." He added that the company felt it was "urgent" to file the petition "now, given the harm to the industry as a whole."
First Solar, which operates a relatively large thin-film solar-panel factory in Ohio, said it isn't involved in the petitions filed by SolarWorld.
"We are a global firm, and in our experience the industry and our customers benefit most when trade is free and fair and all participants operate on a level playing field," First Solar said in a statement.
-By Cassandra Sweet, Dow Jones Newswires; 415-439-6468; firstname.lastname@example.org