Germany’s biggest utility has attacked a US ban on imports from China’s Xinjiang region, warning that it could “significantly hinder plans to build a green energy infrastructure”.
RWE said on Tuesday that the import of solar modules from Asia was now subject to “stringent checks” after Washington last year enacted a ban on all imports from the Chinese province where there have been allegations of human rights violations.
Germany’s largest power producer, which has expanded aggressively into renewable energy, including in the US, said it had been suffering “considerable project delays” as a result of what it called the time-consuming reviews of solar module deliveries.
“State-imposed restrictions on cross-border trade could also significantly hinder plans to build a green energy infrastructure,” the company said in its annual report. “We see an elevated risk of this being the case in the USA.”
It added: “If the USA continues to impede the procurement of solar panels, then it is possible that our photovoltaic expansion initiatives could fall behind schedule.”
The north-western province of Xinjiang has been an important global hub for the production of goods from cotton to silica-based products that are used in solar panel modules.
Business lobby groups had warned that the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021, would pose a significant compliance challenge for western businesses operating in China due to the difficulties of conducting audits of supply chains.
RWE’s complaint makes it one of the only western companies to publicly criticise legislation designed to pressure Beijing over Xinjiang. The UN has warned that crimes against humanity may be taking place against interned Muslim Uyghur and other minorities in the province. China denies the claims.
The criticism from RWE also underlines the tension between the Biden administration’s ambitions to boost renewable energy production and its efforts to upbraid China. The EU also faces a similar dilemma.
In Germany, a new supply chain law came into force at the start of this year that requires companies with more than 3,000 workers to implement systems to check whether or not their suppliers are abusing human rights.
RWE’s intervention came as the company reported better than expected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation of €6.3bn for last year. The group pledged to raise its dividend in 2023 and scale up its investments in renewables.
Additional reporting by Andy Bounds in Brussels