U.S. International Trade Commissioners on Friday said there is a reasonable indication that the U.S. solar industry is being harmed by the alleged dumping of Chinese solar components.

Friday's unanimous vote is just short of being the first blow against Chinese companies. The vote propels the case to the Commerce Department which will start its own preliminary anti-subsidy investigation, the result of which may come as early as Jan. 12, or as late as May of next year.

Friday's vote is the first step in restoring sustainable international competition, said Ben Santarris, head of SolarWorld's communications and sustainability division, to the International Business Times.

Its a very positive step, it's a resounding preliminary determination, Santarris said.

In an official statement released just minutes after the ITC vote, Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America, said the vote supports what solar manufacturers in the U.S have argued for months - that the Chinese are driving out U.S. competition.

Today's ruling further erodes the credibility of denials by Chinese manufacturers and their importer allies in this case, Brinser said, who claimed the trade imbalance has cost the U.S. 2,000 jobs.

Data compiled by the Global Trade Atlas shows imports of Chinese solar components, including solar cells, grew by 67 percent from 2008 to 2010.

In January through September of this year, ITC trade data shows Chinese imports of solar cells grew by 170.7 percent. As of last year, Chinese imports comprised 41.6 percent of all solar imports into the country.

Friday's vote comes as 59 legislators signed a letter to President Obama in support of the trade case fully endorsing SolarWorld's claims.

This case comes at a critical juncture for the U.S. clean energy technology sector and underscores the need to ensure a level playing field for American businesses and workers, not just in the solar arena but for all clean energy technologies, since many of the same issues confronted by the U.S. solar industry exist in other sectors as well, read the letter, which was initiated by Sen. Ron Wyden and Reps. Edward J. Markey and Sander Levin.

Indeed since the trade dispute started in the U.S., it has spread to Europe and Australia, something that while not immediately expected, Santarris said he was not surprised because China's trade practices in the industry have been problematic for everybody. He described the decline of the U.S. solar industry at the hands of the Chinese as shocking.

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy criticized the trade complaint within a week of its filing with the ITC. Opponents say any tariffs will hurt the industry.

Representatives of CASE were not immediately available for an interview by press time.