U.S. trade officials ordered tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels of as much as 250%, according to SolarWorld AG’s U.S. unit.
The decision is likely to help U.S. solar-equipment manufacturers, although it could stir trade tensions with China.
The Department of Commerce has ordered tariffs of 249.96% for some amount of imports of Chinese solar cells and panels, while products made by Suntech Power Holdings Co. will have tariffs of 31.22%, products made by Trina Solar Ltd. will have tariffs of 31.14%, while other unnamed companies will see tariffs of 31.18%, SolarWorld said.
The department was scheduled to release a decision on the tariffs Thursday as part of an investigation into accusations that Chinese solar-panel makers receive unfair government subsidies and sell their products in the U.S. at prices below the cost of production.
In a related decision in March, the department imposed tariffs of between 3% and 5% on imports of Chinese solar panels and found that Chinese solar manufacturers enjoyed some unfair government financial assistance that helped the industry to become an export powerhouse.
The U.S. unit of Germany-based SolarWorld and six other U.S. firms brought the complaint to the Commerce Department last year and filed a similar complaint with the International Trade Commission, which has been conducting a separate investigation.
The decision comes at a difficult time for the solar industry, as sliding prices amid a glut of manufacturing capacity, primarily in China, have driven manufacturers’ profits and stock prices deeply lower. The market turmoil has forced several solar-panel makers out of business, including Solyndra LLC, which had received more than $500 million in federal assistance.
Chinese solar-panel makers such as Suntech, Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. and Trina Solar have denied the accusations. Many of their customers have come to their aid, arguing that low solar-panel prices are good for consumers.
U.S. suppliers to China’s giant solar-power manufacturing industry also oppose the antidumping tariffs over worries that they could trigger a trade war.
China’s Ministry of Commerce has criticized the U.S. investigations
But SolarWorld has argued that the U.S. solar market needs a strong domestic manufacturing industry to create jobs and protect against an over-reliance on foreign suppliers.
Chinese firms dominated the global solar-power market in 2011, supplying 46% of global shipments of solar cells and panels, according to research by Paula Mints, an analyst at Navigant Consulting. U.S. facilities supplied about 3% of global shipments, with most of those panels staying in the U.S., Mints said.
The same year, U.S. developers installed 1,855 megawatts of solar panels, more than double the amount installed the previous year, according to a March report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.