Norcross’ Suniva cuts jobs as China, Trump, overshadow solar industry

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.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Business

Hartsfield-Jackson to rebid CNN contract
Hartsfield-Jackson to rebid CNN contract
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport plans to extend its contract for CNN Airport Network programming airing around the terminal and concourses, as it makes plans to rebid the contract. Atlanta-based CNN’s current contract for network news broadcast system at the Atlanta airport started in 2006. The contract was due to expire in 2016 and...
Ex-Equifax exec is arraigned and freed; pleads not guilty
Ex-Equifax exec is arraigned and freed; pleads not guilty

Jun Ying sat silently in court Thursday while Magistrate Judge Linda Walker debated the merits of letting him await trial a free man. The slightly built Ying, the former chief information officer of a sizeable Equifax unit, wore a tieless, blue dress shirt, black, beltless pants and a chain that bound his ankles. He was indicted Tuesday on charges...
Mercedes announces innovation lab as it opens Sandy Springs HQ
Mercedes announces innovation lab as it opens Sandy Springs HQ

Mercedes-Benz will open an innovation lab in metro Atlanta to dream up new products and business lines, a surprise announcement Thursday that came as the German automaker opened its glistening new North American headquarters in Sandy Springs. Lab1886, a reference to the year the founders of Mercedes’ parent company, Daimler Group, built the first...
High Museum photography exhibit features views of Hartsfield-Jackson
High Museum photography exhibit features views of Hartsfield-Jackson
A new photography exhibit that debuted this month at the High Museum of Art features images of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The exhibit, called “Mark Steinmetz: Terminus” at the Atlanta museum running March 3-June 3 includes more than 60 works by Steinmetz, an Athens-based photographer. The exhibit is located on the lower level...
Mercedes-Benz USA to open Sandy Springs headquarters
Mercedes-Benz USA to open Sandy Springs headquarters

Mercedes-Benz USA on Thursday will hold a ceremonial opening its permanent home in Sandy Springs, a North American headquarters that will eventually house about 1,000 high-paid corporate jobs. The $93 million complex at Abernathy and Barfield roads near Ga. 400 is a calling card for company, and a symbol of the company’s new start in metro Atlanta...
More Stories