The Truth About Suniva and SolarWorld

SolarWorld and Suniva are bankrupt and foreign-owned companies that are now asking the International Trade Commission (ITC) to impose tariffs on solar panels, a move that is opposed by a bipartisan group of congressmen and senators and the solar energy industry’s trade association, which estimates the tariffs could result in the loss of up to 88,000 jobs, or one-third of the U.S. solar workforce.

Suniva, which has been majority owned by the Chinese conglomerate Shunfeng International Clean Energy since 2015, filed for bankruptcy in April – two weeks after it laid off 131 employees without notice and closed its plant in Michigan.

  • According to data compiled by Good Jobs First, a corporate accountability watchdog, Suniva has received over $19 million in state, local and federal subsidies, grants, and tax credits and over $34 million in federal loans, loan guarantees, and bailout assistance. Suniva’s largest single award was $5.7 million in clean energy manufacturing tax credits, through the stimulus package.
  • An E&E News study of Suniva’s bankruptcy filings has revealed that the company is “overwhelmingly in debt to foreign rather than domestic suppliers”.
  • Moreover, SQN Capital Management, an asset manager based in offshore tax haven Guernsey, claims that Suniva owes more than $51 million for the purchase of factory equipment, and is bankrolling Suniva’s complaint before the ITC.
  • SQN previously offered to make the entire complaint go away, for a hefty price. In May, according to a document  submitted to ITC, it wrote to the China Chamber of Commerce for Import & Export of Machinery & Electronic Products and said that if it would be able to recover the cost by selling Suniva’s assets, it “would have no interest in providing additional funding” and “the assets of Suniva would be liquidated and the company would cease to exist any longer.”

Suniva’s co-plaintiff is a subsidiary of Germany’s SolarWorld AG, which filed for insolvency in May. SolarWorld then informed Oregon employment officials that its U.S. operation would be laying off hundreds of employees at its Hillsboro plant and the “employment action is expected to be permanent.”

  • As of July, SolarWorld Americas eliminated 360 jobs and reduced its headcount from about 800 to 300 through attrition.
  • The management board of SolarWorld has resigned– with the exception of its founder and chairman, Dr. Ing Eh Frank Ashbeck, who resigned in August.
  • Asbeck has since announced that the company will get out of insolvency – by selling 49% its assets to a Qatari-German investment fund he set up with Qatar Solar Technologies, a SolarWorld shareholder.
  • The Qatar Foundation, funded by the government of Qatar, first bailed out Solar World in 2013 and has owned a financial stake in the company ever since.

In short: Suniva and SolarWorld’s foreign financial interests stand in stark contrast to those of the thriving domestic solar manufacturing industry, and any decision in this case to support their false claims would put the interest of foreign hedge funds with poor business records ahead of what’s been a successful domestic industry.