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Trade War Impacts Polysilicon Exports

Hemlock Semiconductor (HSC) is looking for federal assistance in expanding into the solar energy market.

HSC makes polycrystalline silicone, or polysilicon, for use in computer chips and solar panels, and is one of only a handful of U.S. companies to manufacture the product. However, in 2014, China placed a 57% tariff on U.S. polysilicon, effectively blocking access to Chinese solar production markets, which dominate the industry.

In a presentation before the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce Thursday, November 7, HSC Chairman and CEO Mark Bassett says this creates a financial struggle for his company.

“Over 90% of that production of ingots and wafers sits in China… so we’re excluded from over 90% of the solar market, which is really detrimental to us.”

The U.S. was once a major exporter of polysilicon, but no longer. In 2011, those exports totaled $1 billion. In 2018, they were $107 million.

Bassett says the company is doing what it can to come up with solutions.

“First and foremost, we continue to engage with our federal representatives in D.C., as well as the USTR (United States Trade Representative) to try to make sure that they remember polysilicon as they’re having these overarching trade discussions, and encourage them to include polysilicon in any sort of overarching trade resolution.”

Bassett says HSC is also eyeing an existing investment tax credit for solar, which ends in the next few years, with the hopes of extending the credit, and also including a “kicker to support companies specifying U.S. produced polysilicon.”

FILE – This Aug. 6, 2019, file photo shows Dominion Energy’s Scott Solar farm in Powhatan, Va. On Friday, Aug. 9, the Labor Department reports on U.S. producer price inflation in July. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

While the international situation remains unresolved, there’s promising developments on the home front. Michigan utility companies have a lofty goal of producing zero net carbon emissions in the coming decades and Hemlock Semiconductor wants to help make that happen.

HSC has partnered with Consumers Energy to supply the company with ingots and wafers for solar cells. Bassett says Consumers is looking for Michigan made products.

“They’ve also come out with an extension of an existing initiative to really try to use as much Michigan produced material as all possible… so we’re having discussions to see if we can find a way to make sure, if at all possible, that Hemlock material is part of that solution.”

Bassett says HSC is also beginning talks with DTE Energy as well for a similar partnership.

 


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