U.S. solar firm blamed for China probe and industry woes calls criticism ‘very irresponsible’

The small California solar-panel manufacturer that lawmakers in Washington and special interest groups say has kneecapped the clean-energy industry has come out swinging against its critics and lawmakers, accusing them of wanting to turn a blind eye to one of America’s most powerful adversaries: China.

A petition from Auxin Solar to the Commerce Department earlier this year accusing Beijing of illegally circumventing U.S. tariffs on solar-panel components vital to the industry triggered an ongoing investigation.

But more importantly, it caused a political firestorm to erupt.

Clean energy advocates and lawmakers on Capitol Hill blame Auxin Solar for causing the industry to grind to a halt amid the investigation, with hundreds of solar projects estimated to be on hold until Commerce makes a ruling sometime before the end of August.

Critics want the probe to cease immediately, an idea Auxin Solar CEO Mamun Rashid labeled “very irresponsible.”

“At first, it’s very sad that our own congressmen in this state where I create jobs have come out against this. But quickly after feeling sad, I feel very upset and angry that none of these government officials have ever picked up the phone and talked to us. That’s quite irresponsible to do this, and it’s a discredit to the offices that they occupy,” Mr. Rashid told the Manufacturing Report, a manufacturing-industry podcast.

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Without mentioning Sen. Martin Heinrich by name, Mr. Rashid directed his ire at the New Mexico Democrat over his criticism of the investigation and for leading the bipartisan charge to end the matter.

“We’re an American company, and our representatives are supposed to represent us,” he said. “There was a judgment made and judgments being made by elected officials without seeing all sides of the story. And it’s shameful.”

Auxin Solar has alleged that China is avoiding tariffs by funneling solar panel components through nearby Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Roughly 80% of imported solar panels come from those four countries, according to the American Clean Power Association.

A Commerce investigation has been detrimental to solar projects because it has halted imports and put more than 300 projects on hold, jeopardizing tens of thousands of clean energy jobs, according to a survey of businesses by Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Mr. Rashid suggested that the effect on the industry from Commerce’s investigation has been far overblown by the media and SEIA, thanks to a select few who are “making a lot of noise.”

“I’ll reserve judgment as far as ‘what did this do to the industry’ until all the dust has settled,” he said.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo received a bipartisan earful on the matter from senators earlier this month during a congressional hearing.

She explained that her hands were essentially tied because Auxin Solar’s petition automatically triggered a probe under current law, an assertion that did not satisfy lawmakers.

Adding to the pressure, a group of House Democrats detailed their “grave concern about the devastating economic and environmental impacts” of the investigation in a letter sent Monday to Ms. Raimondo and President Biden.

During her testimony, Ms. Raimondo agreed with Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, that Congress and the department should work together to reform the law but not without first receiving criticism that she is setting back the country’s clean energy projects.

Mr. Moran questioned how a “small, single company without access to confidential information actually provided necessary data to meet the statutory requirements to initiate the inquiry” that has been “pretty darn damaging to businesses in the United States.”

Sen. Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democrat, pressed Ms. Raimondo to become more involved to hasten the timeline.

“You do have the discretion to get a little more personally engaged, it doesn’t jeopardize the independence of the investigation, informing Congress as to the status of it also is not in any way improper,” he said. “We are in a major, major hurry because the solar industry in the United States is at a halt.”

Mr. Rashid stood by his company and its allegations against China.

He likened their petition to a simple request that Auxin Solar be able to operate on a “level playing field” with competitors, foreign and domestic.

“We have zero fear of competition. I’ll compete all day long with other manufacturers. I welcome other manufacturers to come online in the U.S., so long as it’s a level playing field, we’ll compete all day long,” he said. “And if we lose out, that’s on us. We can compete, that’s all we’re saying, it’s just got to be a level playing field.”

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