There are more than 250,000 people working in America's solar industry.
A bad investment by a single financier could kill a third of those jobs in one fell swoop.
After Georgia-based solar manufacturer Suniva went bankrupt this spring, its debtor, SQN Capital Management, demanded the company file a special trade complaint with the International Trade Commission (ITC).
SQN wants $51 million for equipment costs at Suniva's production facilities. It even attempted to blackmail the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to get its money back.
In April, Suniva filed its complaint and asked the ITC for duties on cells worth $0.40 per watt and a floor price on modules of $0.78 per watt. Trade officials accepted the complaint and are officially investigating the impact of imports on domestic solar producers. If Suniva gets the prices it's asking for, solar equipment prices would effectively double, setting the industry back by years.
It would also crush jobs in installation, sales and construction, says the solar industry's national trade group.
According to new estimates from the Solar Energy Industries Association, Suniva's requested tariff levels would result in the loss of 88,000 jobs.
Those losses would come across all sectors, says the organization: “SEIA forecasts that solar jobs would be lost in all segments of the market. The utility-scale market, which has paced the industry's growth for years, would see jobs shrink by 60 percent, while residential and commercial employment would fall by 44 percent and 46 percent, respectively.”
In 2016, the solar industry accounted for $84 billion in economic activity across America. SQN's quest to get its $51 million investment back could destroy tens of billions of dollars in economic activity across the U.S.
These are only preliminary estimates. GTM Research is currently working on its own detailed forecast, sector by sector.
The ITC is currently considering Suniva's case, and will likely issue a decision in September. If trade officials decide that imports have caused “serious injury” to domestic solar manufacturers, trade officials will recommend remedies to the president.
Trump himself — a man who has talked extensively about protecting U.S. manufacturing jobs — would have the final say.
Trying to figure out what the heck is actually going on? Listen to our latest deep dive on the The Interchange podcast. It'll help you understand the background and potential impact.