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Yingli Americas Head of Marketing Helena Kimball on the U.S. DOC ruling regarding imports of Chinese PV products

Helena Kimball
Helena Kimball

Ms. Helena Kimball is Head of Marketing at Yingli Green Energy Americas, Yingli’s wholly owned subsidiary. Since 2010 she has directed Yingli Americas’ marketing and strategic communications from the Company’s U.S. offices in San Francisco. She has more than 10 years of experience in international marketing and corporate communications.

Ms. Kimball entered the solar sector in 2008 as Director of Marketing Communications for Recurrent Energy (now a subsidiary of Sharp), where she helped launch the company shortly after its inception, and was also responsible for policy and customer relations. She then worked as a consultant for leading solar energy companies, including SunLink Corporation and Nanosolar.

Formerly, Ms. Kimball spent 7 years in the technology sector, eventually becoming the Director of Marketing Communications at Laszlo Systems, an open source rich Internet application company, and ran the San Francisco division of a high-tech public relations agency, Greenough Communications.


Solar Server: How will the recent DOC ruling affect Yingli's business in the United States?

Helena Kimball: First and foremost, I would like to give an overview of what the ruling was, because there was a little bit of confusion around the final numbers. Just to clarify, should Yingli choose to export modules or cells produced entirely in China to the U.S., we are part of the separate rates group, so we would be subject to an anti-dumping tariff of 15.42%. Many people had assumed that this was higher -  26% -  due to the wording of the ruling. It is 10 percentage points lower after the required reduction to avoid the double-counting of anti-subsidy tariffs though.

Our anti-subsidy tariff would be 15.24%. In combination, these rates are actually lower than what was proposed in the Department of Commerce’s preliminary decision. But from our standpoint, we believe that we have defended ourselves against charges of dumping and unfair subsidies, and because the scope stayed the same, the ruling did come down in our favor.


Solar Server: What will this mean for Yingli's strategy and business in the United States?

Helena Kimball: The scope will allow us to continue supplying our customers in the United States. It will have some impact on innovation though. For example, the modules in our monocrystalline PANDA Series are produced with cells that we make in-house and through proprietary innovation originated in China. It will be difficult for us to bring that product line now into the United States.

We are currently working on solutions in order to further our R&D efforts. For example, we recently opened an R&D facility here in South San Francisco that will deal with product innovation and module characterization. But as I mentioned, in the short-term there will be an impact on those higher-efficiency modules coming into the U.S. market.


Solar Server: CASE predicted that the DOC tariffs will cause price increases for PV, but module prices have remained depressed. Can you comment on what that has meant for Yingli, and the impacts of this investigation to date?

Helena Kimball: Yingli is a member of CASE, and from what we know, CASE predicted an increase in prices based on the Brattle Group study that they had commissioned. That study looked at the increase in tariffs should the scope be what SolarWorld had originally requested: to cover both cells and modules manufactured in China.

So in that case -  and we believe it is true -  there would have been a fairly dramatic increase in prices in the United States. Keep in mind that pricing is demand-driven and market-driven, so we certainly don't set the pricing.

From our standpoint, the investigation has taken a lot of resources and has been costly from a legal defense perspective. So we are happy to be coming to the end of it, for the benefit of not only ourselves, but also the majority of the US solar industry.


Solar Server: Has there been a financial impact in profitability or revenue from the preliminary ruling?

Helena Kimball: We, along with other top-tier suppliers, did post an amount in our balance sheet that would reflect any potential duties, should the ITC rule in favor of critical circumstances. On our side, that amount is close to USD 15 million dollars.

We are awaiting the decision in mid-November that would tell us whether or not the critical circumstances determination, based on injury to the U.S. market, will be in effect.


Solar Server: SolarWorld and industry analysts have noted heavy state support for all large Chinese PV manufacturers, including export buyer's credits and USD 5.3 billion loan that Yingli received in 2010 through the government-owned China Development Bank. Can you comment on how this loan and other support has affected Yingli's business operations and cost structure?

Helena Kimball: I can comment and say that we formed a strategic cooperation agreement with the China Development Bank for $5.6 billion. But that was not a line-of-credit or “loan”, as you refer to. In fact, each draw down has to be negotiated separately based upon normal market terms.  For example, by mid-2011, we had only drawn down 4% of our total borrowings from CDB, or $78 million. We bore a very heavy interest rate of between 6.5% and 6.9% -- higher than the benchmark rate set by the People’s Bank of China. This is certainly not “free money”.

Like other larger manufacturers we have used these credit sources in order to expand our capacity. We are a publicly traded company, so we are very transparent about everything we have taken on and the usage of that capital.


Solar Server: The anti-dumping investigation is based on the accusation that Chinese PV producers including Yingli put excess capacity online during the last few years in order to flood the U.S. with low-cost crystalline silicon modules. What are Yingli's views on this allegation, and can you comment on the rationale for past capacity increases?

Helena Kimball: We believe those allegations are baseless. If you look at how the industry has grown, particularly with pricing where it was at in 2008, a lot of companies have increased capacity over the past few years. This was due to worldwide expansion, particularly given the obvious impact of Germany’s feed-in tariff, in addition to the growth and the sudden surge in the Italian and Spanish markets.

All manufacturing companies across the industry expanded with the expectation that they would be able to supply that demand. And if you look at specific increases, SolarWorld actually grew 3.5 times their size at the same time that we grew three times our size, over the same time period from early 2009 - onward.

Similarly, as the large markets started slowing down last year, there have been a lot of pressures impacting manufacturers across the board.

Keep in mind that the U.S. is one of many markets that we are focused on. As an example, Yingli supplied 20% of its capacity to China just in the last year. So certainly from our perspective, capacity has increased in-line with market demand.


Solar Server: What are your views on the long-term impacts of this trade case on Yingli and the global PV industry?

Helena Kimball: Well, certainly there's an impact on the global situation. We have already seen that, per our predictions, this will be a trigger to a potential global trade war. And that's an unfortunate reality for the entire solar industry.

Our mission is to provide affordable solar energy to all. That's been our mission and our CEO's passion from day one. So we work hard to supply our customers globally, and that’s why tariffs are bad across the board. As you know, we are now heavily engaged in defending ourselves in the European market, and we hope that there will be a fair and balanced decision that is made there.

In the long run the resources and the time that we’ve spent fighting and defending ourselves in this case is really unfortunate. Our entire global industry should be heads down working to make affordable solar energy a reality to consumers instead.

by Solar Server International Correspondent Christian Roselund
October 11th, 2012