Four domestic companies that make most of the steel towers for wind turbines in the United States filed a trade complaint against China and Vietnam on Thursday, seeking tariffs in the range of 60 percent. The action is a significant new skirmish in an emerging green energy trade war.
The allegations are much like the ones that solar panel manufacturers made in a similar case filed against Chinese manufacturers in October, namely that government subsidies were allowing foreign manufacturers to sell below cost in the United States, damaging the domestic industry. The filing is likely to increase the already escalating trade frictions between the United States and China.
Chinese officials were not immediately available for comment. The official Xinhua news agency had no immediate comment or reports on the issue.
The companies bringing the complaint buy high-quality plate steel and cut it so that it forms a slightly conical shape when it is rolled into a cylinder. They weld the long seam in the rolled structures, called cans, and then stack the cans to form taller units, each with a flange at top and bottom. The units are shipped to wind farms where they are bolted together to form a tower. Towers can reach 300 feet and weigh 350 tons, and the largest ones sell in the range of $600,000, a price largely determined by the price of steel.
The industry installed about 2,900 towers in 2010 and probably more in 2011.
Imports of towers from Vietnam and China roughly doubled in 2011, according to Alan H. Price, a lawyer at the firm that filed the case, Wiley Rein, which also filed the solar panel case. At one of the companies he represents, Katana Summit, an executive said that imports had been taking market share for the last several years and now had about half the market.
“Like in so much of clean energy sector, there’s tremendous Chinese government subsidies that have gone into this sector and distorting it,” Mr. Price said in a telephone interview. The complaint seeks duties of more than 64 percent on Chinese imports, and more than 59 percent for Vietnamese imports.
The United Steelworkers has previously brought cases against foreign steel manufacturers. It is not directly involved in this case, but a spokesman, Gary Hubbard, said, “We are encouraged that domestic producers of wind towers are standing up to fight unfair trade practices by foreign producers in renewable energy products.”
The case was filed by the Wind Tower Trade Coalition — comprising Trinity Structural Towers, DMI Industries, Katana Summit and Broadwind Energy — at the Commerce Department, which has 20 days to decide whether to initiate an investigation. In addition, another government agency, the International Trade Commission, will hold a hearing in about three weeks to decide whether there is reasonable indication that the domestic industry is suffering from the imports or is under threat from them. It should reach a preliminary determination in 45 days. If the commission says there is an indication of a threat, the Commerce Department would reach a preliminary determination within six months on whether the two countries are guilty of dumping. At that point, duties could be imposed.
A final determination would take about a year, if the wind coalition wins all the earlier rounds.
At Katana Summit, Kevin L. Strudthoff, the president and chief executive, said that his industry’s problem was probably similar to the situation of the domestic solar panel industry. In fact, the American wind industry is also subsidized, mostly through a production tax credit, but by all accounts the scale of Chinese subsidies is far larger.
His company, which is privately held, operates factories in Columbus, Neb., and Ephrata, Wash., employing about 195 people.
The wind industry faces problems beyond imports, however. Its biggest subsidy, the tax credit, expires a year from now, and to collect, wind machines must be in service by the end of 2012. Because many of the components take months to fabricate, ship and install, the credit is expiring “effectively about now,” Mr. Strudthoff said. Because of the uncertainty about whether the credit will be extended, he said, his customers, the turbine builders, have stopped stockpiling inventory and are ordering only what is needed to meet orders they have already taken.
The New York Times