(Adds solar trade group and International Trade Commission statements, byline)
By Nichola Groom
Aug 2 (Reuters) - Two small U.S. solar manufacturers on Monday asked federal trade officials to extend tariffs on solar panel imports imposed by the Trump administration that have divided the fast-growing renewable energy sector.
In a formal request to the U.S. International Trade Commission, Auxin Solar Inc and Suniva Inc said that an extension of the four-year tariffs was necessary for President Joe Biden to achieve his goal of transitioning the U.S. power sector to clean sources by 2035.
"The need for extending the safeguard and allowing these new green energy policies and initiatives to take hold is necessary to secure America’s solar energy independence," the companies' petition said.
Auxin and Suniva said their products were still unable to compete with the overseas-made products that dominate the U.S. market because of import stockpiling by installation companies before the tariffs took effect, the coronavirus pandemic and raw material cost increases.
Auxin Solar produces solar panels in San Jose, California, while Suniva produced solar cells and modules in Norcross, Georgia and Saginaw, Michigan before filing for bankruptcy in 2017.
Suniva roiled the solar industry four years ago by starting a battle over tariffs that the top industry group, the Solar Energy Industries Association, said would drive up the cost of solar just as it was becoming a mainstream energy source.
Most panels installed in the United States are made in Asia, and solar companies rely on those cheap imports to compete with fossil fuels.
Former President Donald Trump announced the solar import levy in January 2018, his opening salvo in a trade war aimed at helping U.S. manufacturers rebound from years of decline.
The duties began at 30% and have since dropped to 18%. They will run out early next year.
In a statement, SEIA called the tariffs "a multibillion dollar drag on industry growth" and said it was advocating for policies that would support the domestic supply chain.
"The way to create more U.S. manufacturing is long-term federal investments," John Smirnow, SEIA's vice president of market strategy, said in an emailed statement.
An ITC spokesperson said the commission had received the filing and would undergo a process to determine whether it would be accepted.
Biden has pledged that his plan to combat climate change will spark the creation of millions of jobs in clean energy industries like solar and offshore wind. Today, most solar industry jobs are in installation and sales, while manufacturing makes up just 14% of employment. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Alistair Bell and Marguerita Choy)