MOSES LAKE — Senators and representatives from Washington and Montana are asking President Donald Trump to help manufacture REC Silicon and resolve the ongoing trade dispute with China over polysilicon and solar panels.
“China’s devastating trade retaliation is forcing REC to consider a complete shut down of its operations in Washington State within the coming months,” said the letter signed by Democratic Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Representatives Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, and Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside.
“Without a permanent resolution, the harmful economic effects will continue to cascade in our states and the United States will suffer severe and possibly irreversible setbacks in its ability to manufacture semiconductors, solar panels, and other new technology products without reliance on China,” the letter said.
REC Silicon, which is based in Norway, produces polysilicon in Moses Lake and silicon gas — silane — in Butte, Mont. The Moses Lake facility produces polysilicon ingots for use in solar panels. However, China imposed duties on U.S.-made polysilicon in 2011, and the company’s Moses Lake operation has been struggling ever since.
In a recent second quarter earnings call, REC Silicon CEO and President Tore Torvund said the company has enough cash on hand to keep the Moses Lake facility operating at 25 percent capacity for the next 12 months. While Torvund said he is cautiously optimistic about future demand for polysilicon, if the market does not show improvement by the end of 2018, closing the Moses Lake facility may be an option.
The signatories said they were most concerned about the effect of further job losses in Moses Lake. Since China imposed duties on polysilicon, the company has laid off nearly half of its employees, most of them here in Central Washington.
“Job loss to this degree hits particularly hard in rural communities like Moses Lake, where the unemployment rate is 6.2 percent, almost double the national average,” the letter said. “This is especially devastating when you consider that at its peak in 2011, REC generated $1 billion in annual revenues from its manufacturing operations across the United States and accounted for approximately 900 high paying jobs.”
“China’s unfair trade practices in this long-running dispute have led to job losses in Moses Lake, hitting families and the entire community hard,” Newhouse said in a separate statement. “I’m part of this urgent, bipartisan request to the Trump administration to resolve this dispute and to succeed where the Obama administration could not.”
Also signing the letter from Washington were Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and Rep. Dennis Heck, D-Olympia. In addition, the letter was also signed by Montana Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines and the state’s sole at-large representative, Greg Gianforte.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at email@example.com.