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4/25/2014 8:03:58 PM

Bloomberg Businessweek: Gaining momentum as a clean energy center

Bloomberg Businessweek

With a major Japanese solar panel manufacturer signing an agreement to study the feasibility of setting up a factory in Buffalo -- it would be a natural to locate at the planned RiverBend clean energy hub -- the push to build a new industry in Western New York is starting to generate some energy of its own.

California-based LED lighting manufacturer Soraa and solar panel manufacturer Silevo were the pioneers who signed up for the RiverBend hub late last year. If the state succeeds in landing Solar Frontier, the world's biggest manufacturer of thin-film solar cells, it will send a strong message throughout the clean energy industry that the Buffalo Niagara region is serious about becoming a key player in the sector.

"This is a big, big catch," said Pradeep Haldar, vice president of entrepreneurship, innovation and clean energy programs at the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany. "You can probably tell how excited I am about this."

It's not a done deal, yet, but state officials said they are optimistic about reaching a final agreement with Solar Frontier.

Indeed, announcing that the two sides were knee-deep in negotiations and then failing to land Solar Frontier would be a big black eye for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and one of the signature pieces of his Buffalo Billion economic development initiative.

"I don't think we would have gone ahead with a release like this if we didn't think it was feasible," Haldar said.

If it does happen, landing Solar Frontier will add significant scale to the region's efforts to build a clean energy hub here. Adding a second solar panel manufacturer will help the industry take a big step toward achieving the critical mass that is so essential to lure suppliers, talented workers and other types of expertise to the region.

State officials estimate that, beyond the 250 people that Solar Frontier could employ itself at a factory in Buffalo and a research center in Albany, the project could spur the creation of as many as 700 to 1,000 other jobs at suppliers and contractors working on the project.

"That's the kind of ecosystem we keep talking about," Haldar said.

And landing a high-profile solar cell manufacturer like Solar Frontier would only call further attention to the efforts to build a clean energy industry here.

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