US Court Exempts Bifacial Module Imports From Tariffs, in Win For SEIA

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The US developer driven Solar group, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has managed to successfully petition the U.S. Court of International Trade (CIT) to reinstate bifacial solar modules’ exemption from the Section 201 tariffs on imported solar modules. The move is a big win for the SEIA which was also joined by major utility developers NextEra Energy, Invenergy Renewables and EDF Renewables. The claim to remove bifacial from tariff controls was built around issues of procedure, rather than countering the argument of damage to US manufacturing.  The move follows the throwing out of another complaint by industry group A-SMACC on starting a fresh investigation against dumping from South East Asia.

The Section 201 tariffs were imposed during the Trump administration, and are at 15% for this fourth year, and any imports from the past year under the adjusted 18% tariff will be eligible for refunds with interest. Imposed first in February 2018, imported crystalline silicon cells, modules and AC/integrated modules were stuck with a 30% duty by the Trump Administration as part of a four-year plan. Imports received a 25% tariff in 2019, a 20% tariff in 2020 and were scheduled for a 15% tariff in 2021. Much like the safeguard duty that ended in India this year.

The US has been involved in a serious trade spat with especially China based solar imports, with even imports not under any tariffs finding themselves stuck at customs and leading to delays.

Some exemptions were allowed, including small-wattage off-grid panels, but the big win for the developers was the exemption to bifacial modules in June 2019. These modules were growing in acceptance then, and with no domestic producer, exemption was considered vital to push them deeper for customers seeking higher efficiency from their solar plants.

However, in October 2020 the Trump administration decided that bifacial modules would lose their exemption in November 2020, adjusting the fourth-year rate of the overall tariff from 15% to 18%.

The latest CIT decision makes them exempt from the Section 201 tariffs again, and this year’s tariff rate is back to 15%.

A decision by the Biden administration to extend the tariffs is awaited later this year, at a time when US manufacturing in solar is finding its feet tentatively again. With demand booming, it will be a very tough call for the Biden administration to balance domestic demand and solar targets versus supplies. Especially with many experts predicting a return to the ‘normalcy’ of rates at 22-23 cents per watt by next year, from the current elevated levels of 26-27 cents per watt effectively.

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