Coalition vs. Coalition: The Solar Trade Dispute Gets Hotter

The American solar industry is deeply (though perhaps not evenly) divided over the pending trade complaint against Chinese panel makers.

If you needed any more proof of that, you got it Tuesday when 25 companies announced that they had formed a competing coalition to counteract the mostly anonymous coalition behind the anti-dumping petition currently under review. Adding to the intrigue — and the confusion — is that the new coalition includes several of the China-based giants targeted in the investigation.

So now the solar industry, which once walked happily hand in hand — publicly at least — toward grid parity, now has an internal friction point that has spilled into the headlines.

This all unfolded Tuesday in Washington as SolarWorld, the only American company to allege on the record that China is illegally dumping panels into America, testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The formation of the new coalition clearly puts more pressure on SolarWorld, America’s largest panel manufacturer. The company more than heads up the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM). They are the lightning rod that those critical of the complaint are pointing to, and that will only continue until other members of the original coalition make their case publicly. Maybe the formation of this new group, the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE), will force “the anonymous six” to stand up with SolarWorld. More likely, though, they’ll retreat deeper into anonymity as more in the industry come out against the petition. According to a recent poll by PV Magazine, 76 percent of respondents opposed the filing of the petition while only 20 percent supported it.

So, who belongs to this new coalition? It was started by Jigar Shah, head of the Carbon War Room and founder of Sun Edison, and Sheldon Kimber, chief operating officer of Recurrent Energy. It also includes Alpine Solar Energy, LLC, AltPOWER, Inc., American Solar Systems, Inc., Canadian Solar, Carbon War Room, Carolina Solar Energy LLC, Gaia Worldwide, LLC, groSolar, Lighthouse Solar, Lumos, MEMC/SunEdison, PetersenDean, Recurrent Energy, Rochlin Corporation, Russell Pacific, Solar City, SolarFirst, Inc., Sungevity, Suntech America, SunRun, Syncarpha Solar, LLC., Trina Solar U.S. Inc., Verengo, Westinghouse Solar and Yingli Americas.

While nothing was said Tuesday that hasn’t been said before, the formation of this new coalition itself speaks loudly. And it’s likely that more companies will join the 25, though it’s questionable what can be done at this point.

We’re still relatively early in this legal process, so there are many questions still to be answered, and many dying to be asked. Here’s one: If the new group goes by the acronym CASE, will the original group be referred to as CASM (pronounced chasm)? I’m sure some would appreciate the irony in that.

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Steve Leone has been a journalist for more than 15 years and has worked for news organizations in Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia and California.

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