6/18/2014 10:34:25 AM

The Buffalo News: ‘Well over 1,000 jobs’ on solar horizon here

The Buffalo News

Musk firm’s purchase of Silevo means panel factory at RiverBend may be 5 times bigger

The solar panel factory slated to be part of the RiverBend clean-energy hub in South Buffalo could be more than five times bigger than originally planned, after the California-based company agreed Tuesday to be acquired by one of the nation’s biggest installers of solar power systems.

Instead of creating 475 jobs, as originally promised by the solar panel-maker Silevo, the $200 million deal and the expansion of the Buffalo factory could create “well over 1,000 jobs” under the company’s new owner, SolarCity Corp. of San Mateo, Calif. Its chairman is Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk.

“We’re interested in going bigger and as fast as possible,” said Christopher Beitel, Silevo’s executive vice president, who has been coordinating the company’s development efforts at RiverBend. “We don’t want to derail some of the work that’s already been done at the site.”

Silevo is one of the two companies that have agreed to open a factory in the $225 million RiverBend complex, one of the key initiatives in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic-development initiative.

“It’s going to dwarf what had been discussed,” Beitel said in an interview.

If the expanded plans come to pass, Buffalo could be home to one of the largest solar panel factories in the world.

Beitel said the plant’s expansion likely will lead to a redesign of the RiverBend complex, which originally was envisioned as a series of buildings running along a central spine. With the solar panel factory now envisioned as five times larger, the complex now may have fewer but bigger buildings than originally planned.

Cuomo hailed the announcement. “It is truly a sunny day in Buffalo,” he said in a statement. “The prospect of thousands of new solar energy jobs coming to the region, marking another landmark investment and economic game-changer taking place in the new Western New York.”

Alain E. Kaloyeros, CEO of the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, said the deal is a validation of the Cuomo administration’s efforts to establish a clean-energy and technology hub in Buffalo, using the same model that the state successfully used over the last two decades to establish a thriving semiconductor industry in the Capitol District.

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