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Another firm in coalition pushing for tariffs on Chinese imports goes public

Yesterday, another founding member of the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM), the group lobbying for countervailing duties on Chinese PV imports, went public.

Wisconsin solar firm Helios Solar Works has been involved in CASM’s operations from day one. But the company stayed anonymous until March 8, leaving SolarWorld as the only public member of the group.

“We have supported these trade cases from the beginning, and we are pleased to publicly declare that support,” said Steve Ostrenga, CEO of Helios Solar Works. “Our country can’t afford to give up manufacturing jobs in growth industries to nations that engage in illegal and harmful trade practices.”

With only seven founding firms, the coalition now includes over 150 U.S. solar manufacturers. According to CASM, the Department of Commerce supports firms’ decisions to stay anonymous in order to protect against business retaliation.

“We believe the United States holds as much promise for manufacturing production and jobs as ever, especially in an industry with such potential to promote U.S. energy security, sustainability and economic growth,” said Brent Brucker, general manager of Helios.

“First we have to enforce world trade laws so that companies can compete on business essentials like production costs and product performance. Then we can go back to filling up our plants, hiring and truly competing.”


A Helios installation in Wisconsin. Photo Credit: Helios Solar Works


Helios Solar Works started it’s first production line only about a year ago, in February, 2011. The company started seeing prices drop just months later, and was forced to lay off about 20 employees, bringing their workforce to about 30, Ostrenga told Renewable Energy World.

Once Helios joined CASM, they decided to stay anonymous to conserve resources, rather than to avoid retaliation from Chinese firms. Helios is one of the many firms that CASM claims has had to downsize thanks to illegal subsidies from the Chinese government to PV producers.

“Our core competency is in making what we believe is the best module in the world,” said Ostrenga. “We just felt we’d get a lot of inquiries from the press and other institutions, and we didn’t want our company and our managers focused on those things.”

But now, the firm has decided to go go public to show that China’s alleged unfair trade practices hit areas other than Oregon, where SolarWorld is based.

“Solar World has been getting a lot of pressure, saying it’s just them and that they stand alone,” said Ostrenga. “No. We’re a module manufacturer. We compete in the market place. We make a good module. We’re here in Milwaukee. We employ people.”

Back in December, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that Chinese practices are damaging the U.S. solar industry. Now CASM awaits the Department of Commerce decision of whether to apply retroactive import tariffs on Chinese PV imports, due March 20.

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