Solar Panel Maker Pushing for US Tariffs Mulls Sale Offers

Suniva Inc., the bankrupt U.S. solar manufacturer asking President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on imported panels, is evaluating a potential sale.

The Norcross, Georgia-based company has been in contact with several potential buyers interested in purchasing either its equipment or the business as a whole, according to interviews and documents filed as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Suniva’s court-appointed Chief Restructuring Officer David Baker said no offer had been accepted.

“We are still in negotiations,” Baker said Wednesday. He declined to comment further.

A sale of the company may influence the president’s decision on imposing tariffs, said Lewis Leibowitz, a Washington-based trade and customs lawyer.

The U.S. International Trade Commission has recommended duties of as much as 35 percent on imported panels, in response to the trade complaint initiated by Suniva and later joined by the U.S. unit of bankrupt German panel maker SolarWorld AG. The president, who has until Jan. 12 to act, may view that recommendation differently should a buyer emerge for Suniva.

“If the assets or the company itself is sold to someone with deeper pockets, that could impact the nature or the duration of the remedy. But it’s very difficult to be definitive about it,” Leibowitz said. “This case has been bizarre from the beginning so why stop now.”

Industry Opposition

Suniva has not initiated any of the contacts with potential buyers, said Mark Paustenbach, a spokesman for the manufacturer. Rather, the company has responded to inquiries and listened to legitimate offers as per the requirements of its bankruptcy.

“Suniva has received multiple expressions of interest — ranging from parties, including notable and public opponents of our actions, interested in buying our products and securing supply, to acquisition of assets or the company,” Paustenbach said in an email. “Our singular focus is to get Suniva back on operational ground and rehire the American workers who lost their jobs.”

Most of the $29 billion U.S. solar industry has opposed Suniva’s push for tariffs, saying they would hobble installations and lead to job cuts. Trade lawyers warn that any duties enacted under the law Suniva invoked would almost certainly prompt challenges from China, South Korea or other nations at the World Trade Organization.

‘Sale Efforts’

Documents filed on Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 as part of Suniva’s bankruptcy proceeding in Delaware include more than a dozen references to “sale efforts,” “correspondence with potential purchasers” and other mentions of a possible disposition. A non-disclosure agreement for potential sale was drafted Oct. 4, and a data room was under development by Oct. 10, according to the filings. The documents detail services performed by Suniva’s lawyers and chief restructuring officer during October.

The Nov. 28 filing cites a teleconference with attorneys to “review Longi interest letter.” Baker, the chief restructuring officer, didn’t respond to an email Thursday whether that refers to Longi Green Energy Technology Co., a Chinese solar manufacturer that’s considering opening a U.S. factory. The filing also mentions a meeting to discuss the “engagement” of Canadian Solar Inc., an Ontario-based manufacturer. Other parts of the filing redacted the names of potential buyers.

Canadian Solar and Longi didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Jeremiah Silkowski, chief executive officer of Suniva’s largest creditor, said the offers have been for both Suniva’s equipment and the company itself. None of them have been serious, and he said he’s not aware of current negotiations.

“They were scrap dealers and vulture-type people, offering to buy the equipment for nothing,” Silkowski said in an interview. “Our approach is to go through with the trade case.”

©2017 Bloomberg News

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