We at The Pipeline have noted in the past the fact that the world's solar panel supply chains are utterly reliant on the People's Republic of China. For a sense of just how reliant, check out this WSJ piece on the ongoing havoc in the solar panel industry occasioned by a Commerce Department investigation into allegations that Chinese firms have been circumventing American tariffs and sanctions by moving products necessary for panel through neighboring countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Auxin Solar Inc., a tiny, struggling maker of solar panels, has thrown the entire American renewable-energy industry into chaos. A petition Auxin filed with the Commerce Department accusing Chinese companies of circumventing tariffs spurred a U.S. probe in March that has effectively halted most solar-panel imports, according to utilities and industry groups, delaying solar projects all over the country. Utility chief executives and politicians including California Gov. Gavin Newsom have protested, warning that the investigation could set back U.S. efforts to transition to cleaner energy sources to combat climate change. A U.S. solar trade group estimates the turmoil could cost the industry billions of dollars. On Wednesday, Indiana-based utility NiSource Inc. said delays of up to 18 months in solar projects meant it would have to keep coal-fired power plants that are slated for retirement running longer than expected.
The article, entitled, "The Most-Hated Solar Company in America," is about the furor directed at this miniscule San Jose-based solar panel manufacturer -- whose name was barely known in the industry before their petition -- because they dared to complain that their competitors were violating U.S. law. Industry insiders have taken to insinuating that Auxin might be some kind of false-flag operation run by anti-environmentalists or suggesting that they are selfishly trying to eliminate foreign competition.
But their justification for the complaint is sound -- the company has been been slogging along, trying to make a profit, but they've found themselves competing against Asian companies "which were able to sell panels at much lower prices — in some cases less than Auxin’s cost of materials," not to mention American companies which were happy to look the other way in order to do business with them. Says Auxin CEO Mamun Rashid, “I don’t think we could have ever imagined how aggressively China would want to dominate the market, and that’s been very tough to contend with.”
China's desire for dominating this particular market is substantial. For years they've been quietly gaining control of areas in Africa and South America that are rich in minerals necessary for the manufacture of solar panels. And some of those minerals are abundant in their own territory -- about half of the world's polysilicon comes from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government have been accused of imprisoning ethnic Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps. In fact, some of these very solar panel companies have been accused of utilizing Uyghur forced laborers. Jim Geraghty notes the odd fact that a recent letter signed by twenty-two senators (including two Republicans) urging President Biden to bring this investigation to a "swift conclusion," mentions neither China nor the Uyghur. Says Geraghty, "if all you knew about this issue was from their letter, you would think the U.S. Commerce Department was investigating the sourcing of these solar panels for no particular reason."
All of this should hammer home the degree to which China, that land of smog filled cities, whose new coal-fired energy capacity alone recently outstripped the rest of the world by 300 percent, is the very heart of the environmentalist project. And why not -- their number one geo-political rival is willing to hand them boatloads of money to manufacture an unreliable energy source to supplant the reliable petroleum products that helped make us a world power in the first place. From their perspective, it seems like a win-win.