EC begins evidence gathering ahead of possible MIP expiry investigation

The European Commission has addressed UK solar manufacturers and trade associations ahead of a possible investigation into extending anti-dumping duties on Chinese companies.

A letter sent to associated parties last week and seen by Solar Power Portal requested information relating to the number of solar panel manufacturers in the European Union and their respective capacities.

In September this year EU ProSun formally requested an extension of the tariffs placed on Chinese manufacturers distributing to the EU which would extend the measures beyond 7 December 2015. If the EU agrees to the investigation the MIP structure would remain in place while it is conducted, which would take a maximum of 15 months.

The letter states this evidence gathering to be part of the Commission’s attempts to verify whether or not companies presenting a complaint are “sufficiently representative” of the industry and to help produce a representative sample should the expiry review investigation be started.

Questions asked within the letter include positions on a possible investigation into anti-dumping and the minimum import price on products exported from China, as well as specific figures relating to manufacturing capacities.

But while the letter was sent last Tuesday (17 November), it imposed a deadline on submissions of last Friday (20 November). Given that parts of central Europe had a public holiday on Wednesday (18 November), the EC gave just 48 hours for interested parties to reply.

The minimum import price on solar modules has become an increasingly contentious factor for the UK industry since the government proposed to cut the small-scale feed-in tariff by as much as 87%, significantly reducing the financial feasibility of domestic solar.

By holding manufacturers to a minimum import price, the EU has artificially inflated the price of components and, in the process, installations. Various parties have since highlighted that a repeal of the duties would bring installation costs down even further, a stance which has grown in support.

A report issued earlier this year by the Renewable Energy Association and ‘Big Four’ consultancy KPMG highlighted the MIP as one area which could be visited in order to help accelerate solar’s transition to grid parity.

Speaking to Solar Power Portal this morning, REA policy analyst Lauren Cook said the letter was "encouraging" and stated the association's view that the MIP should now be brought to a close.

“As the domestic subsidies that encouraged the installation of solar PV are being reduced, it is now more important than ever that the trade barriers artificially keeping costs high are removed. This would directly help many UK consumers access the ever reducing costs enjoyed globally and ensure UK companies manage this looming wave of proposed cuts.

"It is exciting to watch the rate at which the cost for solar PV modules continues to fall outside the EU. This creates an opportunity for the solar industry to move closer to becoming one that can operate subsidy free. Frustratingly however British businesses and the public are watching this development from the sidelines, as this policy continues to subject EU member countries to artificially high prices.

"It is not a lack of innovation in design that is keeping module costs high in the UK but instead politics in the EU," Cook added.

Cook's comments come two months after a group of 21 trade associations from across Europe called for an end to the duties arguing that trade relations with China should be “normalised”.

The topic has also been broached more recently within the House of Commons. At an oral and topical questions session in October energy secretary Amber Rudd was quizzed on the MIP and said it was one area that had been discussed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.