SunPower also filed request for exemption for some of its foreign-made panels, arguing the premium-priced panels could not be compared to models that currently dominate the market. SunPower photo.

SunPower likely set up US plant for “P-series” panels

SunPower Corp, the California based solar panel manufacturing company, says it is considering expanding production at its plant in the United States to avoid some Trump administration’s tariffs on solar imports.

At the same time, the company says it has filed a request for exemption from the 30 per cent tariffs that could be imposed on some its foreign-made panels.

SunPower says that its premium-priced solar panels are highly efficient and cannot be compared with more conventional models that dominate the market.

The company, which is majority owned by Total, does most of its manufacturing in the Philippines and Mexico.

Tom Werner, Chief Executive at SunPower told Reuters that his company is not looking for an exemption from its less efficient and expensive “P-series” panels.  He added the company will likely set up a new manufacturing for the “P-series” panels in the United States.

Werner said such an exclusion of its other products from the tariffs “just makes it far easier to make that investment.”

“We understand the administration’s goals,” he added. “We think we can contribute positively to those objectives.”

Werner declined to give more detail, but according to Reuters, the new plant would likely be located in the Southwest and SunPower says it will create hundreds of jobs.

Earlier this year, SunPower said it put a $20 million expansion of its factory on hold pending a decision on an exclusion from the tariffs.

Werner says if his company is granted the exclusion, SunPower would “materially” reverse the decision, but will not invest the full $20 million as originally planned.

SunPower’s request for an exemption from the tariffs will now undergo a 30-day comment period before the US Trade Representative makes a decision.

In January, President Donald Trump announced his decision to impose 30 per cent tariffs on cheap imported panels.  The move was intended to protect American manufacturing jobs, but, many in the solar industry say the tariffs will raise costs and trigger thousands of layoffs of workers in the installation part of the industry.

Following the announcement, JinkoSolar of China announced it is planning to build a US manufacturing facility.

One of the companies behind the trade case, SolarWorld, said it will hire 200 employees this year.  Another supporter of the tariff, Suniva, a Chinese owned, US based manufacturer of high-efficiency solar panels, has not outlined its plans publicly.

Suniva filed for bankruptcy in April of last year.