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Solar plan to cost $5B

Larry Rulison | Times Union

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed Tuesday that SolarCity is planning a $5 billion expansion in New York state that will include building the nation’s largest solar panel factory in Buffalo.

Although SolarCity had released its plans to build a “gigawatt” factory in Buffalo a few months ago, the scope of its plans had still been under negotiation with state officials.

SolarCity, which is owned by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Tesla car creator Elon Musk, is the largest solar installation firm in the United States, but it has never made its own panels.

In June, however, the company announced plans to acquire a California manufacturer called Silevo in a $350 million deal. Silevo not only has solar panel technology, but it also had a factory in China. It had already negotiated a deal with the state to build a second, 275,000-square-foot factory in Buffalo in partnership with SUNY Polytechnic Institute, formerly known as the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

The facility was expected to cost Silevo $750 million and produce 200 megawatts of solar panels every year, enough to power about 30,000 homes.

But Cuomo revealed Wednesday that SolarCity was not only planning to build a one-gigawatt factory in Buffalo that would employ 1,450 people, but it would be spending $5 billion over the next 10 years as part of a larger expansion in the state that would generate 5,000 new jobs. A one-gigawatt factory would be capable of making enough solar panels each year to power 145,000 homes.

“This is bigger than anything we could have imagined,” Cuomo said.

Under the terms of the deal, the state would provide $750 million toward building and outfitting the factory, which would be owned by SUNY Poly.

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Local firms that will work on the project include the architecture firm EYP and the civil engineering firm CHA, both of which have their headquarters at SUNY Poly facilities in Albany. M+W Group of Watervliet would be the mechanical engineer.

Cuomo said the factory could be operational by 2016. In a recent filing with securities regulators, SolarCity revealed that it will pay up to $150 million in cash to the former Silevo overseeing the project if the Buffalo factory hits certain construction and production milestones between now and 2017.

The project would also be one of the first examples where a company would partner directly with SUNY Poly on a large-scale manufacturing site rather than just research and development. SUNY Poly has also sought to use this same model in Utica where it owns a site for computer chip manufacturing.

SolarCity is facing some intense competition. The world’s largest solar panel company, Yingli Solar, can make four gigawatts worth of panels a year, all at its factories in China.

 

lrulison@timesunion.com, 518-454-5504, @larryrulison

 

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