This was to be the week the U.S. Department of Commerce delivered a preliminary decision on SolarWorld USA’s demand to punish China and its solar industry with countervailing duties. But Commerce pushed that off to February. SolarWorld’s opponents filled the void by playing the Germany card.
“German Company Triggers Beginning of Destructive US-China Trade War,” blared the headline to the press release pumped out by the Podesta Group, the big D.C. firm that’s doing PR for the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE). True enough, SolarWorld USA, despite having 1,000-plus employees in Oregon, is a unit of SolarWorld AG, which is based in Germany. But how highlighting this fact is supposed to strengthen CASE’s argument – other than mirroring the China fears whipped up by SolarWorld and its cohorts in the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) – I don’t know. CASE doesn’t need to find its own xenophobic line in order to convince me that duties on Chinese solar imports are a bad idea.
I’m not saying this is an easy call – and the fact that Commerce sought an extra month to consider the case suggests it might be struggling, as well. A lot is at stake here, not least important of which are the jobs of those 1,000-plus Oregonians, neighbors of mine. I feel for them, for the uncertainty they face during this tumultuous time in the solar industry.
And yet, all around me I see solar power taking root in this country to a degree scarcely imaginable even a few years ago, and the idea of putting that at risk – and make no mistake, duties on Chinese solar products would do that – seems madness. Here’s a little story: Last month I flew down to San Jose to see my parents. As is my custom on such visits, I went for an afternoon run around the track and the playing fields at my old junior high school. I was blown away to find what had sprung up in the months since my last run there: several rows of massive solar canopies, some over here on empty ground near the edge of the school property, some over there on the pavilion where we used to hang out at lunch, harassed by marauding seagulls. The installation at Leonard Herman Junior High School is no cutesy setup; it’s a significant power contributor, part of a four-school project that gives the district 1.8 megawatts of PV capacity.
It’s going in everywhere now, solar is. It’s on three houses on the block just around the corner from my house. It’s going in at the end of the light-rail line I often take. Walking from the train to the office, I see a massive system on a social services building in Portland’s Pearl District.
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