How a Tiny Company with Strange Connections
Is Taking Down the Solar Industry
In February of 2022, a tiny American manufacturing company called Auxin Solar filed a petition with the Commerce Department to start putting tariffs on solar panels imported from four Southeast Asian countries. Commerce denied a similar petition filed last fall by a trade coalition called American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention, due to its refusal to name its member companies, one of which was Auxin, according to The Wall Street Journal. The 2020 Auxin petition builds on one from 2017 that slapped tariffs on solar panels and components imported from China.
While American manufacturing of solar panels throughout the solar value chain should be supported, the problem with slapping tariffs on these four Asian countries is that they produce 82% of the most popular panels used in the United States. American solar manufacturing does not currently have the capacity to produce anywhere near the demand for panels, and Auxin Solar does not have the capacity to bid on any utility-scale project.
The uncertainty and the threat of rising prices for solar panels from these tariffs has halted solar project development and construction, causing delays and cancellations of solar projects – 318 already according to the Solar Energy Industries Association – and higher electricity prices for American consumers and manufacturers. Layoffs may be imminent at hundreds of solar companies.
According to energy reporting outlet Canary Media, “The fate of the entire U.S. solar industry could hinge on the whims of one small company in California. If the tariffs being demanded by San Jose–based panel manufacturer Auxin Solar are enacted, it could bring the fast-growing, multibillion-dollar solar sector to a screeching halt.”
Formed in 2008, Auxin Solar assembles crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells (CSPV), primarily sourced from Asia, at its facility in San Jose, California. Its top executives are CEO Mamun Rashid and his co-founder, Sherry Tai, whose job title has been different in different contexts, either as CEO or the VP of sales and marketing.
Auxin’s facility is 100,000 square feet, has 150 megawatts of annual manufacturing capacity, and employs 35 people. Eric Wesoff of energy reporting outlet Canary Media has described Auxin’s solar panels as “shoddy” and its facility as “desolate.” According to Buzzfile, Auxin’s annual revenue is $9.7 million – miniscule relative to the entire $10 billion American solar industry with 20 gigawatts.
In this petition effort with the Commerce Department, Auxin has enlisted the services of a top DC law firm specializing in trade disputes, and a high-end public relations firm with close ties to Koch Industries, the oil and gas industry, and Republican Party leadership.
Given Auxin’s small size and ostensibly meager resources, many people in the solar industry are speculating that it might be a front for interests that would benefit from creating uncertainty and raising electricity prices for American consumers. Some are saying First Solar, a larger domestic manufacturer that has come out in support of the investigation and would benefit because its panels are exempt from these tariffs -- but First Solar has denied being a party to this effort. Others point to the oil and gas industry, which would benefit from a weakened renewable energy industry.
Rashid himself addressed the rumors, saying that Auxin is “the face of the petition,” which leads us to ask, “Who is the brain and who is the wallet?”
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