US Trade Panel Recommends Varying Solar Panel Import Restrictions

Members of the U.S. International Trade Commission on Tuesday made three different recommendations for restricting solar cell and panel imports on Tuesday, giving President Donald Trump a range of choices to address injury to domestic producers.

The recommendations range from an immediate 35 percent tariff on all imported panels to a four-year quota system that allows the import of up to 8.9 gigawatts of solar cells and modules in the first year. The president’s ultimate decision could have a major impact on the price of U.S. power generated by the sun.

Both supporters and critics of import curbs on solar products were disappointed by the proposals, which were unveiled at a public meeting in Washington.

Trade remedies were requested in a petition earlier this year by two small U.S. manufacturers that said they were unable to compete with cheap panels made overseas, mainly in Asia. The companies, Suniva Inc and the U.S. arm of Germany’s SolarWorld AG, said Tuesday’s recommendations did not go far enough to protect domestic producers.

“The ITC’s remedy simply will not fix the problem the ITC itself identified,” Suniva said in a statement. The company, which is majority owned by Hong Kong-based Shunfeng International Clean Energy, filed the rare Section 201 petition nine days after seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April. It had sought a minimum price on panels of 74 cents a watt, nearly double their current cost.

One analyst said the stiffest remedy recommended, a 35 percent tariff on solar panels, would add about 10 percent to the cost of a utility-scale project but would have a negligible impact on the price of residential systems because panels themselves make up a small portion of their overall cost.

“It’s not nearly the doomsday impact we were potentially expecting,” said Camron Barati, a solar analyst with market research firm IHS Markit Technology.

But the top U.S. solar trade group, the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement on Tuesday that any tariffs would be “intensely harmful” to the industry. The group has lobbied heavily against import restrictions on the grounds that they would undermine a 70 percent drop in the cost of solar since 2010 that has made the technology competitive with fossil fuels.

Recommendations

The ITC will deliver its report to Trump by Nov. 13. He will have broad leeway to come up with his own alternative or do nothing at all. Since only two members agreed on the same restrictions, there was no majority recommendation from the four-member commission.

“There is still plenty to be worried about,” said MJ Shiao, who follows the U.S. solar market for GTM Research.

Trump has vowed to protect U.S. manufacturers from low-priced imports, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has talked about tariff-rate quotas as a flexible way to protect some industries, allowing imports in as needed, but only up to a certain level before high tariffs kick in.

Commissioners David Johanson and Irving Williamson urged the president to impose an immediate 30 percent tariff on completed solar modules, to be lowered in subsequent years, and a tariff-rate quota on solar cells. Imports of cells in excess of one gigawatt would be subject to a 30 percent tariff that would decline after the first year.

ITC Chair Rhonda Schmidtlein recommended an immediate 35 percent four-year tariff on imported solar modules, with a four-year tariff rate quota on solar cells. This would impose a 30 percent tariff on imports exceeding 0.5 gigawatts and 10 percent on imports below that level. These tariffs would decline over a four-year period.

In the most lenient recommendation, Commissioner Meredith Broadbent said the president should impose a four-year quota system that allows for imports of up to 8.9 gigawatts of solar cells and modules in the first year.

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California Wildfire Insurance Claims Top $3.3B

Property damage claims from a series of deadly October wildfires now exceed $3.3 billion, California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Tuesday.

The figure represented claims for homes and businesses insured by 15 companies and was more than triple the previous estimate of $1 billion. Jones said the number would continue to rise as more claims were reported.

The amount of claims now reported means that the fires caused more damage than California’s 1991 Oakland Hills fire, which was previously the state’s costliest, with $2.7 billion in damage in 2015 dollars, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

Forty-three people were killed in the October blazes that tore through Northern California, including the state’s renowned winemaking regions in Napa and Sonoma counties. They destroyed at least 8,900 buildings as more than 100,000 people were forced to evacuate. It was the deadliest series of fires in California history.

Several dozen buildings were also damaged or destroyed in fires in Southern California’s Orange County.

“Behind each and every one of these claims … are ordinary people, Californians who lost their homes, lost their vehicles, in some cases whose family members lost their lives,” said Jones, a Democrat who is running for attorney general.

Jones said there were just over 10,000 claims for partial home losses, more than 4,700 total losses and about 700 for business property. There were 3,200 claims for damaged or destroyed personal vehicles, 91 for commercial vehicles, 153 for farm equipment and 111 for watercraft.

The figures do not reflect uninsured losses, including public infrastructure and the property of people who were uninsured or underinsured.

Arson suspect’s warning

Meanwhile, a man facing arson charges for a wildfire that destroyed two homes south of the San Francisco Bay Area had an ominous message for a prosecutor during a court hearing Tuesday: “You’re next.”

Marlon Coy, 54, uttered the words while glaring at Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell while he explained four of the felony charges Coy is facing, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

Coy pleaded not guilty to charges of arson of a nondwelling, arson causing bodily injury and being a felon in possession of a firearm, the newspaper reported.

Witnesses saw Coy start the fire on October 16 near a property in Santa Cruz County connected to someone with whom he had a dispute, sheriff’s officials said.

Coy was arrested in possession of jewelry and a bicycle taken from a home that had been burglarized while under evacuation, according to sheriff’s officials.

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US Social Media Giants Pledge to Combat Foreign Disinformation

Attorneys for Twitter, Facebook and Google on Tuesday told U.S. lawmakers that Russian entities used their platforms to sow discord and disinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, but downplayed the magnitude of those efforts.

“Foreign actors used fake accounts to place ads in Facebook and Instagram that reached millions of Americans over a two-year period,” Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said, testifying before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee. “Many of these ads and posts are inflammatory. Some are downright offensive.”

Sean Edgett, Twitter’s acting general counsel, said the company studied all tweets posted from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15, 2016, and found that election-related content posted by automated Russian troll accounts “was comparatively small.” He said the Russian troll accounts made up “around 1/100th of a percent of total Twitter accounts” during the time studied.

“Twitter believes that any activity of that kind — regardless of magnitude — is unacceptable and we agree we must do better to prevent it,” he said.

Twitter has taken action against the suspected Russian trolls, suspending 2,752 accounts and implementing new dedicated teams “to enhance the quality of the information our users see,” Edgett said.

Facebook, meanwhile, said it would hire more people to vet and, when necessary, remove content, and verify and publish the identities of election advertisers.

Watch: Social media companies to fight disinformation

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the Senate requiring some of the very steps technology giants say they are implementing on their own.

“These platforms are being used by people who wish us harm and wish to undercut our way of life,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“It shouldn’t be news to anyone that Russia interfered in the election,” said California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “What is really staggering and hard to fully comprehend is how easily and successfully they turned modern technologies to their advantage.”

The social media attorneys said Russian trolling campaigns consistently sought to rile up Americans, first in a way damaging to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. After the election, they said, Russian efforts appeared aimed at sowing doubts about the legitimacy of Republican Donald Trump’s victory at the polls — a point seized upon by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

“Russia does not have loyalty to a political party in the United States; their goal is to divide us and discredit our democracy,” Grassley said.

Representatives from the same social media companies testify Wednesday before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. 

VOA’s Joshua Fatzick contributed to this report.

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Water Up! Re-Think Your Drink

The suburbs of Washington are the setting for a pilot project to promote healthier eating habits, a partnership between leaders of the Latino community there and researchers at George Washington University. The “Water up Project” encourages the community to drink more water and reduce their consumption of sugary beverages. Faiza Elmasry reports. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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Dakota Fanning Says ‘Important’ to Speak Up About Assault

Actress Dakota Fanning has told reporters that although she hasn’t experienced the sort of sexual assault that has turned Hollywood on its head, it’s “important to talk about these issues, for women to stand up for themselves.”

 

Fanning, 23, spoke Tuesday at the Rome Film Festival, where she was presenting the film “Please Stand By.” She plays a young autistic woman obsessed with the Star Trek series, who runs away from her home in San Francisco to get to Los Angeles to submit her manuscript for a Star Trek script writing contest.

 

Fanning said she shares her character’s determination in achieving her goal, adding: “you have to fight for what you believe in and stay true to what you are.”

 

 

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Under Fire, Kevin Spacey Won’t Get International Emmy Award

The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has revoked an award it was going to give Kevin Spacey, a decision made after allegations that he made sexual advances on a teen boy.

The group says “”it will not honor Kevin Spacey with the 2017 International Emmy Founders Award.”

The award is to honor “an individual who crosses cultural boundaries to touch humanity.” Spacey was to get it at a gala on Nov. 20 in New York City. Past recipients include Steven Spielberg, Shonda Rhimes and J.J. Abrams.

The move comes after actor Anthony Rapp came forward with claims Spacey made inappropriate sexual advances toward him in 1986, when he was 14. Netflix announced Monday that it was pulling the plug on “House of Cards,” which stars Spacey.

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