Sparks fly over EU PV duties

As a flood of reports suggest that provisional EU anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese PV equipment are a done deal, European opponents of the move swiftly predicted they would smash the economics of solar projects on the continent.

Although no official announcement has been made, Brussels looks set to act on complaints that Chinese companies have been dumping PV product in Europe at unfairly low prices, to the detriment of local manufacturers.

The Alliance for Affordable Solar Energy (AFASE) – a lobbying group claiming to represent 450 solar businesses – said reports of duties of between 37% and 68% on Chinese imports are “extremely worrying”.

AFASE claims the tariffs would stop EU solar development in its tracks and cause “irreversible damage” that even a later settlement could not undo.

The body has called on the European Commission to hold fire with preliminary tariffs, and instead to negotiate with the Chinese authorities.

The stance by AFASE, which campaigned against duties in the run-up to the decision, shows how an EU yes to duties could broadly split the European sector between PV plant developers and builders – which relish the low prices of Chinese imports – and the EU module-makers that see them as an unfair threat.

The latter camp is represented by EU ProSun, the pro-duties lobbying group in which German PV equipment manufacturer SolarWorld is a prime mover.

It issued a statement today claiming that duties would come "at the last moment, but still in time" to stem a flood of Chinese products that has wiped out thousands of jobs.

"If the EU takes action against dumping, the strategically significant PV industry can be maintained and further expanded in Europe. Furthermore, a Chinese monopoly with all the ensuing negative consequences for customers, installers and suppliers will be prevented," said EU ProSun.

But one UK-based developer immediately insisted that duties at the level being discussed would force it to reconsider construction of projects worth £180m ($280m).

Orta Solar, which says it has developed 20 projects in the UK, said its options would be “extremely limited” for striking economically-viable alternative deals for equipment not affected by the tariffs.

“We’re astonished that the EU has bought into the protectionist argument of 42 largely bankrupt EU-based solar wafer and cell manufacturers at the expense of thousands of EU-based solar development and installation businesses, who depend on easy availability of low-cost solar panels for their existence.

“Any certainty we had on future construction costs has just been removed with the stroke of a pen,” said Orta.