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Laid-Off SolarWorld Workers Can Get Federal Assistance

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HILLSBORO, Ore., July 29, 2013 — Photovoltaics manufacturer SolarWorld AG said last week that it would lay off about 50 employees from its silicon crystal factory in the US, blaming Chinese solar panel imports for the move.

The employees, most of whom grow silicon crystal and cut crystals into solar wafers at the factory, will be eligible for federal “trade adjustment” assistance because the US Department of Labor has determined that Chinese solar-panel imports caused the impending layoffs. Such benefits will include job placement assistance; expenses for job searches, relocation and retraining; income support during full-time training; and tax credits for health insurance premiums.

SolarWorld says that it is idling the crystallization and wafering departments in Hillsboro as the company develops ground-breaking, cost-reducing technologies in factories in both the US and Freiburg, Germany. China’s sustained solar import dumping on the US market means that the company can no longer continue to produce solar wafers in Hillsboro using conventional crystallization methods, it said. Without dumping and subsidies, China has no cost advantage over US manufacturers in terms of wafers or any other aspect of solar production.

After the layoffs, SolarWorld said it will remain a vertically integrated producer and employ more than 700 Americans. The Hillsboro campus will remain the largest solar cell and panel manufacturer in the Western Hemisphere.

Chinese solar cell and panel imports are subject to tariffs averaging about 31 percent as a result of exhaustive, 13-month federal investigations concluded in late 2012. Those probes found that China’s government illegally underwrites its solar export aggression and that its state-sponsored producers illegally sell below production costs in the US market.

A loophole in the US determinations, however, means that Chinese producers can evade duties by making panels in China using solar cells from other countries. This loophole, which SolarWorld is appealing to the US Court of International Trade, stands even as China subsidizes every phase of solar-panel production, including wafer making and panel assembly, to fuel its dumping campaign, according to the company. Government subsidies for exports, it says, are illegal under world trade rules.

“All of our workers had one thing in common: They are committed to US manufacturing jobs in the very industry that their American peers helped pioneer,” said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc. “It’s doubly wrenching, therefore, that we have been forced to lay them off as a result of China’s unfair, illegal and unsustainable trade practices. We look forward to a day when China’s illegal and retaliatory trade actions are stopped, so that SolarWorld’s US operations can expand, rehire, and lead the next generation of solar innovation.”

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Jul 2013
AmericasAsia-PacificBusinessChinacompany layoffscrystallization methodsenergyEuropeGermanyGordon Brinsergreen photonicsindustrialOregonphotovoltaics manufacturingSolarWorld AGSolarWorld Industries Americas practicesUS Court of International TradeUS Department of Labor

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