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The United Steelworkers have started a fight against Chinese solar companies it feels are getting an unfair advantage over U.S. rivals. A few weeks ago we covered how wide the cost advantage has gotten for Chinese manufacturers, and fellow Fool Toby Shute has documented the advantages Chinese solar has with access to nearly unlimited capital. Apparently, the United Steelworkers aren't happy about these trends and want the U.S. government to help make the its solar industry more competitive.
Ironically, this comes at the same time First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR ) , an American company, is planning to build a 2 GW solar farm and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) backed eSolar prepares to break ground on 2 GW of thermal solar plants in China. The U.S.-based companies won those bids even though Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL ) , Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE ) and Solarfun (Nasdaq: SOLF ) had home field advantage.
Union efforts could hurt solar plant developments here at home just when they're starting to get off the ground. The U.S. is on a path to reap the second mover advantage in solar thanks to Germany, Italy and Spain subsidizing solar's development over the past few years. Companies like NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG ) and Edison International (NYSE: EIX ) have been building solar plants at increasingly competitive costs with low-cost panels in part thanks to Chinese subsidies.
It may be that the large contracts U.S. companies win in China are diplomatic gestures since the Chinese solar industry needs the U.S. market more than vice-versa. If rapid adoption of clean energy is the goal, I find it hard to see how we could complain too much about China's practices, though I do understand worries that China could grow to dominate the field. Still, I hope good intentioned efforts don't put the brakes on a growing solar industry back here at home.
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