Ten years ago an engineering professor at Georgia Tech started a company outside Atlanta with the hope of manufacturing solar panels in America. And for a while it worked. The company, Suniva, grew into one of the largest panel makers in the U.S., with 350 employees. But it was always dwarfed by rivals in Asia, which have flooded the U.S. with cheap panels, driving prices down 60 percent over the past five years. By 2014, Suniva was outsourcing some of its assembly work to federal prisons to cut costs. In 2015 it sold a 64 percent stake in itself to a solar company in Hong Kong, Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd., for $57.8 million. The money was supposed to fund an aggressive expansion, but it didn’t last long. Last year, Suniva lost $29 million. On April 17 it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The governments of Canada, China, Malaysia, and Mexico—whose solar factories would be affected by any tariffs—have filed as interested parities in the Suniva case, most likely in anticipation of some action being taken, says Bill Reinsch, a trade expert and fellow with the Stimson Center. “Anybody is more likely to win with Trump than with previous presidents,” he says. “They should be worried.”
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