Acting DOE chief: US not backing down on Indian solar practices

Poneman was fresh off a one-on-one meeting with India New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah, in which Poneman said his counterparts discussed a range of renewable energy issues.

The solar topic is of particular importance to India as it strives to provide power to millions that lack it and stabilize an electric grid prone to blackouts. The government also sees it as a way to promote job creation through developing a domestic industry.

But the U.S. in February asked the WTO to start a dispute settlement process regarding India’s program, which aims to bring 20,000 megawatts of solar power online by 2020.

The U.S. says the program's local-content requirements flout free trade rules. It contends India’s policies restrict U.S. exports of solar thin film technologies, which “currently comprise the majority of U.S. solar exports to India,” according to the U.S. Trade Representative.

Some insiders expect the U.S. Trade Representative to call for a formal WTO panel to investigate India’s local-content rules in the coming months.

In a speech at Tuesday’s conference, Poneman said the U.S. and India must work together to enhance solar energy “in a way that is not impinging on trade.”

But green groups — including the Sierra Club, 350.org and Greenpeace — have pushed back against the Obama administration’s criticism of India’s local-content requirements.

The environmental organizations say the local-content policies would foster an Indian solar industry with greater buy-in amongst it citizens.

That, they say, would promote more widespread solar adoption to help displace coal-fired generation — which is growing rapidly in India — and, in turn, limit greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate climate change.

Ilana Solomon, trade representative with the Sierra Club, told The Hill last week that WTO blocking buy-local rules have thwarted developing clean-energy industries in other nations.

“I think that’s really a problem in the climate crisis,” Solomon said.