First Solar Comes Out in Favor of a Section 201 Trade Case Remedy

First Solar, the largest U.S.-based solar panel manufacturer, has been relatively quiet about the controversial Section 201 trade case brought by U.S.-based crystalline silicon PV manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld Americas. That is, until now. 

This week, the company broke its silence and broke rank with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), of which First Solar is a board member.

In a letter filed Tuesday, First Solar urged the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to put in place a remedy that protects U.S. cell and module manufacturers. According to Goldman Sachs analysts, this is the first time the company has publicly offered support for a remedy in the case.

“For years, CSPV import prices have been anything but rational, falling much more rapidly than could be explained by cost improvements achieved on a commercial basis,” First Solar CEO Mark Widmar wrote to the ITC. “The root cause of this phenomenon has been massive CSPV overcapacity, particularly in Asia, that is inconsistent with market-based investment behavior. U.S. CSPV producers will not get the breathing space they need unless CSPV import prices rise to rational levels and this overcapacity is addressed.”

First Solar’s position doesn’t come entirely by surprise. Because the company makes thin-film solar modules, it is exempt from trade remedies on crystalline silicon PV (CSPV) products. Furthermore, while First Solar manufactures the majority of its products in Malaysia and is in the process of ramping up production in Vietnam, it also has a meaningful U.S. manufacturing presence in Ohio. 

First Solar’s cadmium telluride thin-film products are exempt from the Section 201 trade case no matter where they’re made. The benefit of having a U.S. facility is that the company will have easy access to the expected uptick in thin-film demand — which also stands to benefit thin-film module makers Solar Frontier and U.S.-based…

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