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Martin LaMonica

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Solyndra Files Suit Against Chinese Solar "Cartel"

The infamous solar company seeks $1.5 billion in damages, alleging that Chinese solar manufacturers manipulated prices and sold under costs.

  • October 15, 2012

It seems the only time people have heard the word “Solyndra” over the past year has been in political ads or reports of its bankruptcy proceedings.

But despite being out of business, Solyndra has gone on the attack, accusing three Chinese solar manufacturers of undermining the U.S. solar industry and Solyndra by selling product below costs. In a law suit filed last Thursday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, the company is seeking $1.5 billion in damages. (Here’s a link to the complaint via Greentech Media)

The suit casts three of the largest Chinese solar panel makers—Suntech, Trina Solar, and Yingli Green Energy—as conspirators working with a Chinese industry association to lower prices in tandem in an effort to monopolize the U.S. solar panel market. The suit also contends that Chinese polysilicon producers, which supply the raw material to make solar cells, worked in concert with panel manufacturers to dump products by offering product at below cost.

“Recognizing that they could not keep pace with the innovation presented by Solyndra technology, defendants entered into a conspiracy with each other and, pursuant to national and local policies directing commercial growth dominance in the United States market, with key suppliers and lenders to dump product at predatory levels, and to drive Solyndra and other American solar manufacturers out of business. The success of this plan can be measured by the sheer number of bankruptcies filed by United States solar manufacturers over the past several years,” the suit says.

Trina and Yingli quickly issued statements dismissing the suit. “We just received notice of this complaint, but from our initial review, these are unwarranted and misguided claims from a company that has a clear history of failed technology and achievements. We will vigorously defend ourselves with the expectation that Yingli will prevail,” said Robert Petrina, managing director of Yingli Green Energy Americas in a statement. 

Solyndra’s case came just a day after the Commerce Department finalized a rule to impose tariffs between 24 to 36 percent on solar panels imported from China. It concluded that Chinese companies “dumped” solar panels at below the cost to manufacture them. It’s a decision that has split the solar industry, with many opposed to it over concerns the tariffs prevent free trade and could escalate into a larger trade war.

It’s no secret that the rapid expansion of Chinese solar panel manufacturers, aided by low-cost loans from domestic banks, has led to a supply glut and a brutal shakeout among manufacturers. Even Suntech, the largest manufacturer, is weighed down by massive debts and faces a possible stock market deslisting. (See, Once Mighty Suntech Struggles to Survive.)

In that sense, Solyndra’s anti-trust suit is based in the harsh reality of rapidly falling prices over the past few years. The company, which made solar collectors out of solar cell-covered glass tubes for flat commercial rooftops, went out of business after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee to build a factory in California. Its failure caused a political uproar and gave the U.S. solar industry as a whole black eye. (See, A Solar Startup That Isn’t Afraid of Solyndra’s Ghost.)

But solar industry analysts have said that Solyndra’s production costs were substantially higher than industry leaders, such as U.S.-based First Solar. So even with its advanced technology and specialized product, Solyndra trailed much of the industry on price, making its product uncompetitive in a low-margin business.

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