Suniva, 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.
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.
Troubles at Suniva, one of the largest U.S. solar manufacturers, 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, 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.
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.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s election raised questions about whether a key tax incentive for investments in solar power installations will be scrapped.
A 30 percent federal investment tax credit for commercial and residential solar panels was extended from 2016 to 2019, but may run into a wall after that. 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.
In its statement, Suniva blamed overseas manufacturers.
“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.
Suniva itself is largely owned by Chinese solar panel maker Shunfeng International Clean Energy, which in 2015 bought a nearly two-thirds stake in Suniva in a bid to boost U.S. sales and avoid tariffs on panels made overseas.
The 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.
An AJC analysis at the time of the announcement found the company could stand to receive up to $11 million in state incentives – largely from tax credits embedded in state law if it lived up to the promise of 500 new jobs.
At the time Gwinnett had provided at least $2.4 million in tax incentives to the company.
It was unclear Tuesday how Suniva’s job cuts will affect those incentives. Officials from Suniva and the Georgia Department of Economic Development did not respond to calls.
Other U.S solar manufacturers also have 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.
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