Rush of China solar panels to US ahead of tariffs

Fourth-quarter deliveries from China were almost 11 times higher than in the first nine months of 2017

FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2012, file photo, workers check solar panels at a solar power station on a factory roof in Changxing in eastern China's Zhejiang province. One of China's biggest makers of solar panels said Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, that it will invest $309 million to expand manufacturing in India to guard against what it said is a rising threat of import controls in the United States and other markets. (Chinatopix via AP, File)
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Chinese suppliers flooded the US solar market with panels at the end of last year, as customers sought to avoid paying President Donald Trump’s 30 per cent import tariff.

Fourth-quarter deliveries from China were almost 11 times higher than in the first nine months of 2017, according to report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Manufacturers also hauled panels and cells across the border from Mexico, Canada and other countries to beat the import duties that were announced last month.

The tariffs don’t apply to the first 2.5 gigawatts of imports this year, and there’s as much as 5 gigawatts of solar equipment already stashed in warehouses and ports around the country. That’s enough to supply US developers for about six months, said Hugh Bromley, a solar analyst at New Energy Finance, undermining the impact of the protectionist policies on manufacturers. Shipments from exempt suppliers including First Solar may extend that period to nine months.


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“The slow pace of DC bureaucracy has allowed the solar industry to insulate itself from the full impact of the tariffs,” Mr Bromley said. “They won’t be as damaging as some in the industry have warned.”

The tariffs announced in January came in response to a trade suit filed in April 2017 by a bankrupt US solar manufacturer that argued it had been harmed by a wave of cheap imports, mostly from Asia. The US International Trade Commission agreed in October, paving the way for Mr Trump’s decision.

SunPower, the second-biggest US solar supplier, manufacturers most of its products in Mexico and Asia, and rushed to bring them into the country at the end of last year. The stockpiled inventory will help the San Jose, California-based company buy time as it pursues a request to be excluded from the duties because it uses a technology that’s different from standard photovoltaic panels.

“Of course we accelerated” shipments, chief executive Tom Werner said. “We’re not going to pay tariffs on goods that we already brought to the US.”