Trump should fight for US solar against Chinese aggression

Trump should fight for US solar against Chinese aggression
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The Washington-based trade group that backs the solar power installer industry, the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), counts U.S. subsidiaries of Chinese solar companies among its members.

That may be why the SEIA is fighting hard to persuade President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE to reject the advice of the International Trade Commission, which recommended in September that the president impose duties on government-subsidized exports of solar panels into the U.S. 

That’s according to Mark Paustenbach, Suniva spokesperson, one of the two U.S. companies that brought the complaint to the ITC in 2017. 

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SolarWorld, the other company that brought the ITC complaint goes even further. SolarWorld USA chief executive Juergen Stein charged in federal testimony in October that two Chinese companies benefited from technology secrets stolen illegally by Chinese agents from SolarWorld’s Oregon R&D center.

 

Stein said SolarWorld developed its own proprietary so-called PERC technology that delivered more power per solar panel than other solar panel technology.

According to Stein’s testimony, in 2011-2012, SolarWorld spent $45 million developing PERC technology into commercial form and launching the manufacturing process. What happened next sounds like it comes right out of a spy novel, according to what Stein told the U.S. government panel

“Between May and September 2012 — exactly the time we brought this technology to mass production — SolarWorld’s IT system was hacked 13 times by the Chinese military hackers. Now armed with our proprietary data, and armed with our cost data, we saw our Chinese competitors leap overnight into PERC technology that we had innovated.” 

In May 2014, a U.S. grand jury in Pennsylvania indicted five alleged members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on charges of cyber hacking to steal trade secrets from five U.S. companies, including SolarWorld (other victims of the alleged hacking included Westinghouse, Alcoa, and US Steel).

According to the federal indictment, the five PLA agents used code names including “UglyGorilla” and “KandyGoo.” The indictment said that Wen Xinyu (codename: WinXYHappy) masterminded the SolarWorld hack:

“Defendant Wen and at least one unidentified co-conspirator stole thousands of emails and related attachments that provided detailed information about SolarWorld’s financial position, production capabilities, cost structure and business strategy.” 

All five alleged spies remain in China and have never been prosecuted.

Stein said in his October testimony that two Chinese solar power manufacturers, JA Solar and Trina, brought out new solar panels using PERC technology in 2014 and 2015. Stein said he believed both companies benefited from the secrets stolen by PLA agent Wen and that without those secrets it would have taken them years to develop their own PERC technology. 

It’s not just the U.S.-based manufacturers that are annoyed with the SEIA. In 2016, two American solar entrepreneurs, venture capitalist Jigar Shah and solar installer Barry Cinnamon launched a petition asking the SEIA to change its priorities and fight for the small installer businesses instead of what they called “global” corporations:

“The majority of the membership dues to fund SEIA came from its hard-working industry board, which consisted mainly of manufacturers and large-scale developers,” Shah and Cinnamon said in their petition.

Also this week, the Coalition for Prosperous America (CPA) — the advocacy group that I work for — published a report labeling SEIA’s claims on jobs in the solar industry as “fiction.” The SEIA claims that 260,000 Americans work in solar power and that up to one-third of those jobs could be lost if President Trump levies duties on foreign solar panels. Those claims were wrong and misleading.

Citing official Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the CPA report said only about 30,000 Americans currently work in solar power and that job losses in the case of duties would be negligible and job totals could even rise if the proceeds of the duties are returned to the industry.

Jeff Ferry is the research director for the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA), an advocacy group representing the interest of U.S. manufacturers and farmers. Suniva is a member company of the CPA.