June 26, 2017 / 12:08 PM / 2 years ago

U.S. solar demand could drop 66 percent if trade case succeeds: report

FILE PHOTO - An array of solar panels are seen in Oakland, California, U.S. on December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

(Reuters) - The U.S. solar industry would see two-thirds of expected demand dry up over the next five years if a trade case aimed at propping up the domestic panel manufacturing industry is successful, a new report said on Monday.

The utility-scale solar industry, which accounts for more than half of U.S. installations, would be hit hardest if Washington adopts the hefty remedies sought by bankrupt solar panel maker Suniva. That is because large projects depend on being cost-competitive with natural gas-fired plants to spur buying, research firm GTM Research said in their analysis.

“This is arguably one of the biggest downside risks to the future of U.S. solar,” GTM’s associate director of U.S. solar, Cory Honeyman, said in an interview.

In April, Suniva filed a rare Section 201 petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission nine days after seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In the petition, the company asked for new duties on imported solar products to combat a global glut of panels that has depressed prices and made it difficult for American producers to compete.

Suniva was founded in Georgia but as of 2015 is majority owned by Hong Kong-based Shunfeng International Clean Energy. It was joined in the petition by another domestic manufacturer, the U.S. division of Germany’s SolarWorld. The German company filed for insolvency last month.

Suniva is seeking a duty rate of 40 cents per watt on solar cells and a minimum price on modules of 78 cents a watt for the first year, levels unseen since 2012, according to GTM.

Between 2018 and 2022, U.S. solar installations would fall from 72.5 gigawatts to 36.4 GW with a minimum module price of 78 cents a watt, GTM said. If a 40 cent cell tariff were implemented as well, installations would drop to 25 GW during the period.

The U.S. ITC will decide by September whether imports are causing harm to domestic producers. If it does find serious injury to the industry, by November the commission will recommend remedies to President Trump, who then makes a final decision. Trump could accept the ITC’s recommendation or do something else entirely. The final outcome could vary greatly from Suniva’s suggested remedies.

The Solar Energy Industries Trade Association, the U.S. solar trade group, is opposed to Suniva’s petition. The group said last week that an estimated 88,000 jobs would be lost if the trade protections Suniva is seeking are imposed.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by David Gregorio

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