The United States will impose anti-dumping duties slightly above 31% on photovoltaic cells manufactured in China, according to the US Commerce Department.

The duties are 31.14% for cells from Trina, 31.22% for Suntech and 31.18% for 59 others companies that joined the proceedings. (The duty is 249.96% for all other Chinese companies.)

The duties are retroactive and apply to cells (including cells incorporated into modules) imported on or after late February this year. The actual date will be 90 days before the decision is published in the Federal Register.

The anti-dumping duties are in addition to countervailing duties imposed last March of 4.73% for Trina, 2.9% for Suntech and 3.59% for all others. The countervailing duties apply to Chinese solar cells imported on or after December 27, 2011. The net effect is expected to be an increase in Chinese module prices of at least 30¢ per watt.

The decisions to impose the duties and the amounts are preliminary. A final decision is expected later in the year.

The duties are imposed on the “importer of record.” Many Chinese solar module manufacturers sell their products in the US through a US subsidiary acting as the importer of record. Importers of record must post cash security or a bond to cover the preliminary duties. Once the final duties are determined later this year, the deposits or bonds will be liquidated and the duties paid.

The US action is in response to a petition that a number of US companies led by SolarWorld filed last October asking for relief from what the group claimed were illegal Chinese government subsidies for and selling of Chinese solar cells in the US market at below-market prices. The US Department of Commerce made a preliminary decision to impose countervailing duties in March. Final duties will be known by early October, and the US government will start collecting them by the end of November. The final duties can vary from the preliminary ones.

The final decision may be appealed to the US Court of International Trade. There is no suspension of duties during an appeal. Commerce will conduct a “sunset” review of the duties within five years of their imposition and see if they can be ended without injuring the relevant US industry.

Most US solar developers have been careful since SolarWorld filed its petition last year to make clear in module purchase contracts that the seller is the importer of record. However, some contracts place a cap on the amount of duty the seller must bear with the US developer agreeing to a price adjustment to cover the excess.

Chinese companies can avoid the duties on future imports by moving their manufacturing of the cells to other countries.

Two US senators, Chuck Schumer of New York and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, said in mid-May that they are introducing a bill to impose domestic content requirements on solar projects that want to qualify for a 30% investment tax credit. If the modules used in a solar project are not manufactured in the US, then their domestic content would have to be 70%. If they are manufactured in the US, the domestic content must be 50%. It is unclear how the domestic content would be measured. The text of the bill is not yet available. Schumer and Brown tried to persuade Congress to impose a similar requirement for renewable energy projects to qualify for Treasury cash grants under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The proposal did not get enough traction in Congress to be enacted.

This decision comes two weeks ahead of another Commerce decision being watched by the renewable energy industry. Earlier this year, a group of US wind-tower manufacturers asked for anti-dumping and countervailing duties against utility-scale wind towers manufactured in China, as well as anti-dumping duties against such towers manufactured in Vietnam. The preliminary determination on the countervailing duties is expected at the end of May while the preliminary determination on the anti-dumping duties is scheduled for early June.