20110929 solar panel china
A Chinese worker walks in the solar modules of a 100MW photovoltaic on-grid power project in Dunhuang, of China's northwest Gansu Province. - 

Steve Chiotakis: Here at home, American solar panel manufacturers are reportedly preparing a trade complaint against China. They say subsidies from the Chinese government violate global trade rules, and make Chinese imports artificially cheap. The case could be one of the largest trade cases targeting China in years.

From Shanghai, here's Marketplace China bureau chief Rob Schmitz.

Rob Schmitz: For years, the rule of thumb for many U.S. companies has been design your product at home, make it in China.

Ben Santarris is a spokesman for SolarWorld, the largest U.S. solar panel manufacturer based in Oregon.

Ben Santarris: We don't want to go to China. We live here. We believe it's very important to have a source of renewable energy and technology in the United States.

These days, remaining loyal to the U.S. can hurt. Yesterday, SolarWorld laid off 150 people. Santarris says Chinese solar companies have taken over the U.S. market. He says Chinese companies can sell panels below what it costs to make them. That's because the companies are propped up with a seemingly endless stream of Chinese government money -- twenty times what the U.S. government gives American companies.

And Santarris says it's not just about subsidies.

Santarris: We have environmental and safety and labor and quality standards that we, as a society in the United States, think are right for our system. And yet we're allowing producers from countries that don't hold those standards to flood our markets with their products.

Just how bad is it? At this summer's North American solar panel convention in San Francisco, Santarris says China had 45 exhibitors.

The U.S.? Four.

In Shanghai, I'm Rob Schmitz, for Marketplace.

Follow Rob Schmitz at @rob_schmitz