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As SolarCity grows, where to put Soraa?

Where is Soraa’s factory going to go?

With SolarCity’s massive solar panel factory now expected to fill the entire first phase of the RiverBend complex, New York State officials need to find a new home for Soraa Inc., a small company from Fremont, Calif., that is developing a line of LED, or light-emitting diode, lights that it touts as being both energy-efficient and yielding a quality of light far more natural than most other LEDs.

State officials said that they are working with the company to find an alternative site and stressed that the expansion of the SolarCity component has not jeopardized the Soraa portion of the project. It just may not occur in the RiverBend complex, as originally envisioned.

“The Soraa deal is alive and well,” said Alain E. Kaloyeros, CEO at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany and one of the key players behind Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s economic-development push in the Buffalo Niagara region. “We’re in discussions with them.”

State officials declined to elaborate on what could happen with Soraa, which planned to open a factory that would employ 375 workers at RiverBend on the former Republic Steel site on South Park Avenue.

Just before Thanksgiving two years ago, Cuomo announced plans to create a clean-energy hub in Buffalo and introduced a pair of California companies that he said would be the pioneers in turning the region into a center for 21st-century industry.

Related: State shifts jobs effort

One was Silevo, a solar panel manufacturer whose plans to build a factory that would employ 475 people grew exponentially after it was acquired earlier this year by solar energy systems installer SolarCity. Plans now call for increasing the capacity of the plant fivefold and hiring 1,460 workers — more than three times the original target.

But the other company, LED lighting manufacturer Soraa, has been mostly in the background as the solar panel factory grew in scale and prominence.

Soraa and Silevo initially were slated to share space in the first building that would have been constructed in the RiverBend complex, with the LED lighting company occupying 50,000 square feet of space in what was envisioned as a 280,000-square-foot building.

Seventy percent of the space — 35,000 square feet — in the original building that Soraa was to occupy would have been devoted to “clean rooms.” Those are areas with tightly controlled environments to reduce the amount of dust and other tiny particles in the air that can cause defects in highly sensitive materials, such as the silicon wafers that the company uses as the basis for its lighting products.

The state has pledged to provide Soraa with a building to establish a factory for its LED lighting products, which now are produced on a small scale at its facility in California. The state also has agreed to purchase a wide range of specialized equipment that Soraa would use to produce its LED lights, including sophisticated lithography, deposition, inspection, etching, metallization and wafer-dicing equipment.

In return, Soraa pledged to create about 375 jobs in Buffalo, with positions ranging from engineers and technicians to equipment operators and maintenance and facilities staff. The Buffalo factory is expected to increase Soraa’s production capacity by seven to 10 times its current level, compared with its California facility, which employs 210 people.

Soraa executives say their technology enables them to produce LED bulbs that emit a high-quality light that more closely matches the light that comes from the sun — an upgrade from compact fluorescent lights that frequently are the subject of consumer complaints over the quality of the light they emit. Soraa’s target is the high end of the lighting market — retailers, restaurants and museums that are willing to pay a higher price for energy-efficient lights that can be precisely focused and provide high-quality illumination.



This article was written by David Robinson from The Buffalo News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.