Political Pressure Increases Against Solar Anti-Circumvention Case

By Christian Roselund

Over the past few weeks an increasing number of political leaders, including within the Biden Administration, have openly come out against the U.S. Department of Commerce’s anti-circumvention investigation against solar imports from Southeast Asia. Most notably 20 senators sent a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden calling on the Commerce Department to quickly wrap up in the investigation with a negative finding. The governors of California and Indiana have similarly asked Secretary Raimondo to wrap up the investigation.

Other parties are also expressing their opposition to the investigation, with the Laborers Union stating that due to the investigation “the growth of the U.S. solar industry has stopped dead in its tracks, which will inevitably lead to more layoffs.” And in a rare show of criticism, in two different congressional hearings Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm agreed that the anti-circumvention investigation is making it harder to reach the president’s climate goals.

The letters also reveal details on both the politics of this case and shed light on some of the impacts of the investigation. Of the 20 senators who signed the letter, 17 are members of President Biden’s Democratic Party. The majority are from Western States, with both senators from Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, and Nevada signing, as well as Senator Heinrich from New Mexico. All of these states have large solar markets.

Governor Newsom’s letter also pointed to the impact of the investigation not only on solar project development, but also his state’s deployment of energy storage. Newsom warned that the investigation is delaying 4,350 megawatts of solar plus storage projects that he says are expected to come online between 2022 and 2024. This is particularly a concern as California energy officials are warning that the state is likely to face an energy shortfall this summer during peak demand.

Concurrently, a utility in Indiana has stated that due the investigation it will pause retirement of its largest coal-fired power plant by two years. Northern Indiana Public Service Co. has stated that it will keep two units at its RM Schahfer Generating Station running until 2025, as supply chain challenges are making it harder to deploy solar and energy storage to replace this plant.

It is unclear if any of this will sway the process. In anti-circumvention and other anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations, the Department of Commerce is supposed to be immune to political pressures and follow a semi-judicial process that looks at the facts of the case. And in responses to these letters, Secretary Raimondo has reiterated these lines.

The Department of Commerce’s 2 May memo, which clarified duty rates, is notable in light of these pressures. However, Commerce has proceeded with selection of companies as mandatory respondents to represent the solar industries in these nations. This suggests that a quick rejection of this petition is unlikely and that instead the process will likely run its normal course.

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Source: Letter to President Biden (Office of Senator Jackie Rosen)

News coverage: ‘Massive disruption’: Senators pressure Biden to conclude solar trade probe (S&P Global)

Press release: Solar industry offers U.S. Department of Commerce strong evidence to reach negative determination in solar circumvention investigation (American Clean Power Association)