China’s Solar Industry Seeks U.S. Polysilicon Imports Probe

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A Chinese solar trade group will ask the government to start a dumping and subsidy investigation into sales of U.S. polysilicon in the nation after American authorities opened a trade probe into the imports of Chinese solar cells.

The U.S. has exported a “large amount” of polysilicon, the raw material of solar panels, to China, which has become the biggest supplier of finished solar products, Gao Hongling, deputy secretary-general of the China Photovoltaic Industry Alliance, said by phone today.

“The subsidized imports are prompting lots of Chinese polysilicon companies to halt production” amid a price slump, Gao said.

The alliance includes Suntech Power Holdings Co., LDK Solar Co. and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. Suntech, the world’s largest solar module maker, said it’s not involved in the action.

“Suntech supports free trade in the U.S. and China and has not asked nor advocated the Chinese government to launch a dumping and subsidy investigation into sales of U.S. polysilicon,” Andrew Beebe, the Wuxi, China-based company’s chief commercial officer, said today in an e-mailed statement.

Polysilicon Prices

Spot prices of polysilicon declined 62 percent since March as manufactures led by Hemlock Semiconductor Corp. of Michigan lifted production, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. About 90 percent of the Chinese polysilicon factories may suspend production this month due to falling prices, Xie Chen, an analyst from the China Nonferrous Metals Industrial Association who conducted a study of the polysilicon industry, said on Nov. 4.

The alliance, along with other domestic associations in the solar industry, will file the probe request to the Ministry of Commerce “soon,” said Gao. She didn’t say which companies in the alliance have agreed to support the investigation. A call and an e-mail to Jessy Fang, a spokeswoman of GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., which is also part of the alliance, weren’t immediately answered.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Nov. 9 opened an anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigation of solar cells from China, acting on a trade complaint brought by the U.S. unit of Bonn-based SolarWorld AG and six other companies. The complaint asked the Obama administration to slap duties on more than $1 billion of Chinese imports to compensate for what they called unfair state aid undercutting American competitors. Three U.S. solar companies including Solyndra LLC collapsed this year as prices for solar cells plummeted.

‘Waste of Time’

Gao said the U.S. accusations aren’t true. The duties, once imposed, will damage the solar cell industry in China, which involve purchasing raw materials and manufacturing equipment from the U.S., and the entire solar market, she said.

The trade complaint is “a waste of time for the industry,” Suntech’s Beebe, said in a Nov. 16 interview. “More importantly, it runs the risk of raising costs for customers.”

China bought 48,500 metric tons of polysilicon from abroad for the first nine months this year, including those from the U.S., said Gao. The imports amount to about half of the material demanded in China, she said.

Hemlock, the world’s biggest maker of polysilicon, received $169 million in tax credits in 2010 as part of the U.S. economic stimulus program. Renewable Energy Corp. ASA also said last year that its REC Silicon unit will receive about $155 million in tax credits.

Jarrod Erpelding, a Hemlock spokesman, wouldn’t discuss the action today. MEMC Electronic Materials Inc., a St. Peters, Missouri-based polysilicon producer, didn’t respond to phone and e-mail messages today.

— With assistance by Feifei Shen, and Will Wade

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