* 7 U.S. solar companies want duties on imports from China
* Many US, European companies supply China or buy from it
* Some companies fear getting shut out of China market
By Matt Daily and Nichola Groom
DALLAS, Oct 20 A trade complaint filed by a
group of solar companies against China drew skeptical reviews
from inside the industry, with many fearing a trade war could
On Wednesday, seven U.S. solar manufacturers asked the
Obama administration to slap duties of more than 100 percent on
China imports, which they said were unfairly undercutting U.S.
prices and destroying American jobs.
But many U.S. and European companies supply China's
industry with products used to make solar cells, while others
end up buying those finished cells to put in their own solar
"It's a really difficult issue for everyone," said Tom
Hecht, head of U.S. sales for Germany's Schott Solar .
"Any trade war is damaging to the industry."
Fear of triggering retaliation from Beijing or angering the
Chinese companies appeared to be the reason that six of the
companies that filed the complaint chose to remain anonymous,
several industry experts said.
Only SolarWorld Industries, the U.S. arm of Germany's
SolarWorld AG , has made its name public.
China's solar industry has grown rapidly over the past five
years, led by companies such as Suntech Power Holdings ,
Yingli Green Energy and Trina Solar . Analysts
and industry executives have blamed the rising output of panels
from China for pushing some U.S. companies into bankruptcy this
A glut of solar panels has helped push down prices by about
40 percent so far this year, shrinking margins for nearly all
But Kevin Kilkelly, SolarWorld's U.S. president, said the
Chinese companies had flooded the United States with panels at
cut-rate prices simply to win market share.
"In July alone, (China's U.S. shipments) far outweighed
those from all of 2010 combined," he told Reuters. "So we said
we have to take action."
Many executives from the United States and Europe have
privately complained for years about China's impact on the
solar markets, but most said the business had become so
globalized that penalizing one country would not help companies
that are struggling to survive.
Still others appeared wary of triggering a trade war that
could see China shut foreign companies out of its market, which
has become one of the fastest-growing renewable energy centers
in the world.
First Solar , the largest U.S. solar company and
the industry's lowest-cost manufacturer, has signed agreements
that could result in it building huge solar power plants in
China, although it has done only modest pilot projects there so
"What we believe in is free and open market access here and
everywhere else in the world," First Solar Chief Executive
Officer Rob Gillette told reporters at the Solar Power
International trade show in Dallas this week.
Trade relations with China have become a hot issue ahead of
the 2012 U.S. presidential and congressional elections. Last
week the Senate passed a bill aimed at Beijing's currency
practices, although the proposal faces an uphill battle in the
House of Representatives to become law.
Others at the show said the trade complaint gave the
industry a black eye, something many found unwelcome following
the bankruptcy of Solyndra, which collapsed after receiving
more than $500 million in government loans.
"The outside world looking at renewables as a whole says:
'Well, this is just proof that solar is not a business yet --
let's just ignore it for another five years,'" said Julian
Hawkins, head of sales and marketing for U.S. manufacturer
"I'm not really sure at times that people go through all