WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. International Trade Commission said on Tuesday it was launching a probe into imports of solar panels, in a case watched closely by the solar installation industry, which has seen panel prices rise partly from concern that tariffs could double their cost.
The commission said it would issue a preliminary finding by Sept. 22 on whether imports of the panels, known as crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, were damaging U.S. producers, after a complaint brought by Georgia-based Suniva Inc in April.
Manufacturers in China account for most of the solar panels imported into the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who has taken a tough approach on trade policy and Chinese exporters in particular, is expected to make a final decision in the case later this year.
Suniva, owned by Hong Kong-based Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd (1165.HK), filed for bankruptcy in April after receiving millions of dollars of local, state and federal incentives.
German-based SolarWorld AG (SWVKk.F) later joined the complaint.
According to an industry report published on Monday, U.S. solar module prices rose to 39 cents per watt during the second quarter of 2017 from 37 cents in the first quarter. It was the first time module prices had increased since 2014.
Solar system prices declined only modestly during the quarter as developers, fearing new tariffs on imports, rushed to secure panels, it said.
The report also showed that U.S. solar installations rose 8 percent in the quarter as robust utility demand offset a sharp pullback in residential rooftop systems.
In the European Union, Chinese solar panel imports have been subject to anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties since 2013, with an 18-month extension agreed on by EU countries earlier this year.
Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Peter Cooney