The fallout within the industry has been significant.
The Commerce Department has defended it as a transparent and necessary process, but several solar industry experts and executives told CNN it has also essentially frozen most solar imports into the US because of the threat of steep, retroactive tariffs.
“With this administration and this much support, we’re in a position where we’re going to be laying off people in the renewables industry,” George Hershman, CEO of utility solar contractor SOLV Energy, told CNN. “While you say all those things we agree with, we’re getting crushed because we literally can’t buy a module today. It’s so frustrating.”
The investigation was launched after one small US-based company, Auxin Solar, filed a complaint in February. Auxin CEO Mamun Rashid told CNN that the complaint “was existential” for his company.
“When prices of finished panels from Southeast Asia come in below our bill of materials cost, American manufacturers cannot compete,” Rashid said, adding that “if foreign producers are circumventing U.S. law and causing harm to U.S. producers like Auxin Solar, it needs to be addressed.”
Rashid told CNN it’s “lamentable” that frustration is aimed at his company, rather than the “foreign suppliers” that he says are circumventing US law. Rashid also noted that Auxin is “here and can quickly scale up to meet needs of utilities within 2 to 3 quarters if we have the purchase order today.”
Solar industry leaders have been communicating with the Commerce Department and have also communicated their concerns about the probe to Biden’s top climate officials — including McCarthy and US Climate Envoy John Kerry — a person familiar with the conversations said.
“The administration has been in touch with and is engaging with all kinds of solar stakeholders including the trade associations but also labor, communities, and NGOs,” a White House official told CNN.
‘The worst moment’
The Commerce probe comes on the heels of last year’s ban on solar panels and parts that were suspected of having links to forced labor in China’s Xinjiang Province.
The Department of Homeland Security directed US Customs and Border Protection to issue a Withhold Release Order, which banned imports made by Chinese company Hoshine Silicon Industry Co., after the government alleged the company uses forced Uyghur labor.
“Obviously, the industry absolutely needed to address any concerns about forced labor, but the implementation of that [order] was far from smooth,” Solar Energy Industries Association President Abigail Ross Hopper told CNN.
At ports around the country, CBP agents seized and detained any solar products they suspected had links to Hoshine, unless companies could prove they did not.
US Customs and Border Protection statistics provided to CNN note the agency detained 734 shipments valued at $246 million, which the agency said is just 1.86% of the total value of all solar imports into the United States. But Hershman said the order ultimately led to a chilling effect across the industry, where companies withheld shipments for fear of being caught in an overly broad net at US ports.
“If you have materials detained, you don’t want to ship more,” Hershman said.
Solar CEOs and industry analysts told CNN that while the CBP order was eventually resolved with a good outcome for the industry, the impact of the Commerce investigation is like whiplash.
“Solar is a big mess right now,” said Marcelo Ortega, an analyst for Rystad. “This seems to …….