SolarWorld's Ben Santarris on the company's biggest battle
By Ben Santarris, SolarWorld
Ben Santarris heads SolarWorld's local corporate communications and sustainability department.
Editor’s note: For a piece that’ll run in Friday’s edition of the Portland Business Journal, I reached out to several solar industry insiders to ask whether SolarWorld’s proposed debt restructuring deal, which will take several months to approve, would help the company emerge and one day thrive. It’s a relevant question given the pressures SolarWorld and other manufacturers face from Chinese competitors charged with selling their materials at a fraction of the cost their U.S. counterparts collect.
I ran the question — specifically, “What can SolarWorld do to thrive in a market as you face heavy competition from China and what appears to be product saturation?” — past Ben Santarris, the Hillsboro-based SolarWorld head of corporate communications and sustainability. His answer surprised me not only because of its length — around 1,560 words — but because of its depth and passion. Here’s Santarris’ emailed answer.
First, let’s explore your question’s premise. Our friction with China industry is not exactly a matter of industrial competition, at least not as we in the free world understand it. It’s more like a geopolitical struggle in which Western producers are hobbled because, unlike China, their governments are playing by well-established rules enabling free trade. Only in disregard to those rules is Chinese-style green-technology mercantilism possible. More exactly, SolarWorld is contending with illegal Chinese government sponsorship of solar export aggression.
After a 13-month investigation that amassed vast stores of evidence and entailed information-gathering trips to China, two agencies of the U.S. government separately agreed with us. The Department of Commerce determined that China is illegally subsidizing its solar export campaign, which has consumed more than 95 percent of its industry’s production, and illegally pricing its exports below production costs to eliminate competition and seize market share here.
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