Suniva Inc., a Norcross-based solar panel maker that received millions in state and Gwinnett County incentives, said it has laid off a “significant” portion of its work force as it struggles with falling prices and competition from overseas producers.
U.S solar manufacturers have stumbled over the past year from a combination of blows.
Chinese manufacturers have vastly expanded solar panel production, driving down solar cell prices. The resulting decline in solar panel prices has benefited customers, powering dramatic growth in solar energy installations by homeowners, utilities and other businesses across the nation, including in Georgia.
But President Donald Trump’s election also threw the solar industry a curve ball, raising questions about whether a key tax incentive for investments in solar power installations will be scrapped.
The president has called investments in renewable energy like wind and solar power “a big mistake.”
The solar industry has cited a drop in new project contracts over the past year, especially by utilities.
Troubles at Suniva, one of the largest solar manufacturers in the U.S., are a blow to Georgia’s nascent solar industry. The company had been growing rapidly since its 2007 founding at Georgia Tech — much of it with the help of millions in tax credits for new jobs, grants and other incentives.
However, in its recent about-face, Suniva said it and other U.S. solar manufacturers “face attack” from overseas solar manufacturers, particularly in Asia, that are dumping cheap solar panels in the U.S.
According to a notice filed March 29 with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Suniva laid off 131 workers in Norcross, where it has its headquarters and a solar panel factory. The company also closed its panel assembly plant in Michigan, according to press reports.
“Since 2013, when the U.S. government instituted anti-dumping and countervailing duties against manufacturers in certain countries, additional new global overcapacity has continued to drive U.S. market prices to levels that challenge responsible economic operations for U.S. manufacturers,” Suniva said in a statement.
Ironically, Suniva is blaming its owners. In 2015, the Chinese solar panel maker Shunfeng International Clean Energy bought a nearly two-thirds stake in Suniva in a bid to boost its sales in the U.S. and to avoid tariffs tacked onto panels made overseas.
That same year, the company announced plans to triple its production and add 500 jobs with a nearly $100 million expansion. It had 380 employees at the time, including 240 in Georgia.
Other U.S solar manufacturers also have recently stumbled.
First Solar, a solar panel manufacturer and installer based in Tempe, Ariz., said it lost $358 million last year as solar prices plunged and bookings for new projects, especially from utility customers, declined. Over the past year, First Solar’s stock price has declined by more than 60 percent.
Suniva said in its statement it “remains committed to U.S. manufacturing,” but said it is “actively investigating all economically-responsible operational structures” for the company and pushing for a “fair and rational market” for U.S. solar manufacturers.