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The Daily Tar Heel

New legislation increases solar costs, producers adapt

SolarWorld Industries America Inc., which is located in Hillsboro, Oregon, petitioned the International Trade Administration of the United States Department of Commerce to investigate companies importing solar panels from Chinese companies. SolarWorld called on the agency to investigate those companies selling solar panels to U.S. solar energy providers at less than their fair market value, an illegal economic practice known as “dumping .”

In June, the International Trade Administration preliminarily passed a tariff on these panels.

Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar has been powering parts of North Carolina with solar farms — pieces of land filled with solar panels to provide electricity for nearby communities and businesses.

Most recently, Strata Solar completed a farm on White Cross Road in Chapel Hill.

Strata Solar’s three local farms have been using solar panels imported from various companies in China since 2008.

“What’s at stake are a few hundred jobs in Oregon, whereas this industry is struggling to become competitive, and higher equipment prices make it less competitive,” said Greg Gangi, associate director for education at the UNC Institute for the Environment.

Gangi said he worries about how the tariff will affect the expansion of solar power.

“There are a lot more jobs in developing solar than in one company making panels.”

That made it expensive for companies like Strata to continue ordering panels from China.

“SolarWorld has pursued its trade cases against Chinese solar producers to help restore fair competition in the U.S. solar industry and support American manufacturing,” said Devon Cichoski, media relations manager at SolarWorld, in an email.

“U.S. solar producers should not have to compete with illegally dumped imports or with the government of China.”

Instead of buying SolarWorld’s panels, Strata Solar chief operating officer John Morrison said his company has decided to start using a different kind of panel made from thin-film solar cells instead. The new panels are cheaper than the tariffed panels.

“The ability to build large-scale solar is dependent on the ability to be low-cost,” Morrison said.

Input prices for solar providers are continuously declining in cost, Morrison said. While Strata will have to restructure its farms to accommodate the new panels in the short-term, he said the future looks bright.

Strata Solar has more than 60 farms running or under construction and is expanding into Tennessee and Missouri.

“They’re good business,” Morrison said.

Most farms are in rural communities, bringing in much-needed tax revenue and creating jobs, he said.

“What solar’s able to do is really bring some economic opportunity to parts of the state that tend to be bypassed.”

Morrison also said it’s important to bring clean energy to the region.

“You never worry about a solar spill,” he said.

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