In less than a decade, an energy and manufacturing renaissance has been happening throughout the United States, and you probably haven't heard much about it. Solar was the number-one source of new electricity capacity installed in the U.S. last year, and solar manufacturing has been the fastest-growing manufacturing sector in the last five years.
The price of solar panels has plummeted, making solar one of the cheapest sources of new power generation there is. And the number of Americans employed in factories making solar equipment has risen 58 percent in just five years. According to the Solar Jobs Census, the $23 billion industry now supports over 260,000 American jobs.
My company, Terrasmart, is one of the great success stories of the solar manufacturing boom. We manufacture steel racking at our plant in Columbus, Ohio, and contract with other factories in Illinois and Michigan. Overall, our company has grown from eight employees seven years ago to over 125 today. And our story isn't unique. All across the Midwest steel belt and the Deep South, there are factories churning out steel racking and other solar equipment that's meeting the demand for solar power plants, and using American steel to do it.
But the viability of my plants, and the entire solar industry, and the jobs it has created, is at risk. Today, two bankrupt companies — the Chinese-owned Suniva and German-owned SolarWorld — will participate in a public hearing at the U.S. International Trade Commission, a federal agency that investigates and makes recommendations to the president on trade issues. Today's Suniva petition asks the government to impose tariffs that would more than double the current market price for solar panels.
Suniva says this price increase will increase demand and create jobs — a claim so absurd it would be funny if the consequences weren't so disastrous. In reality, if Suniva and SolarWorld prevail at the ITC and get their tariff, the resulting prices would crush domestic solar demand. Industry groups estimate 88,000 American jobs would disappear.
So why are these companies seeking a so-called remedy that could destroy the solar industry? The answer is their hedge fund backers. SolarWorld was recently declared insolvent by its parent company, and Suniva declared bankruptcy in April with more than $100 million in debt.
SQN Capital Management, the London-based investment firm that has purchased most of Suniva's debt, is hoping the ITC will grant enough damages not just to pay off their debt but earn them a hefty profit.
If it seems unbelievable that two bankrupt companies on their way out would be willing to tank an entire American industry, then consider this: In May, SQN Capital sent a letter to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce suggesting that if the Chinese government would pay SQN $55 million, SQN would drop this case and liquidate Suniva, laying off all of its workers.
Our entire industry knows that this trade case isn't about creating jobs or bringing back investment. That's why no actual American solar company is backing it. No, this case is about two bankrupt foreign companies and their hedge-fund backers seeking a multimillion dollar bailout, at the expense of hundreds of thousands of American workers in the thriving solar industry.
The trade laws give the International Trade Commission broad authority to develop trade remedies, even when the applicants are foreign companies. But the president also has authority to overrule them. President Trump has been a great defender of the American factory worker, and that's why I and so many manufacturing workers have supported him. We are counting on the president to make the right call, because this case is the difference between creating more good-paying manufacturing jobs or shutting our doors.
Ryan C. Reid is the President of TerraSmart, a leading North American solar ground mount racking, design, engineering, manufacturing, and installation company.
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