Trustee says Chinese companies put solar panel maker out of business

The liquidating trustee for what was once one of the nation’s largest solar panel providers has filed a $950 million antitrust lawsuit against three China-based companies for allegedly conspiring to drive U.S. panel makers out of business.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, says Energy Conversion Devices consistently held a competitive advantage in the commercial and industrial rooftop solar market until the foreign companies and their U.S. affiliates ran it out of business.

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The defendants include Trina Solar Ltd., Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. and Suntech Power Holdings Co.  All three are alleged to have executive offices in China.

Energy Conversion Devices, which was based in Auburn Hills, Mich., filed a Chapter 11 petition in 2011.  The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan approved its liquidation plan last year and appointed a liquidating trustee.

Prior to its demise, ECD had specialized in renewable energy for more than 50 years and had achieved over $1 billion in worldwide sales of solar panels, according to the lawsuit.

But beginning in 2008, the defendants allegedly agreed to dump their products in the U.S. market at artificially low prices to drive companies like ECD out of business, the complaint says.

The trustee says the defendants’ alleged conduct caused ECD to lose $211 million in solar panel sales in fiscal year 2010 and $193 million the following year.

“There is simply no explanation for ECD’s sudden decline in revenue other than defendants’ illegal sales driving it from the marketplace,” the complaint says.

The defendants’ alleged scheme also has led a dozen domestic manufacturing plants to shut down and a number of other companies to declare bankruptcy, according to the complaint.

The trustee seeks to recover at least $950 million on behalf of the ECD liquidating trust, which he says is the book value of the company.

The complaint alleges the defendants violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act and Michigan’s antitrust laws.

In separate statements Trina Solar and Yingli Green Energy called the claims baseless.

Energy Conversion Devices Liquidation Trust v. Trina Solar Ltd et al., No. 2:13-CV-14241, complaint filed (E.D. Mich. Oct. 4, 2013).