July 18, 2013

Former Kodak building to be transformed into solar energy hub

By: Jessica Alaimo

Source: Democrat and Chronicle

Both the past, and the projected future, of Rochester’s economy are currently symbolized by a practically empty building.

The building, once an Eastman Kodak Co. cleanroom, still has signs asking visitors to wear eye protection — but there is no longer anything to protect the eyes from. The bins for goggles are empty. So are the bins for latex gloves, and the cubicles. The front of the building at 115 Canal Landing Blvd. is devoid of a sign. The building has been vacant since October.

The College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering Photovoltaic Manufacturing and Technology Development Facility is expected to be up and running later this year, and will create 100 jobs at the 57,000-square-foot facility. The hope is it will increase to 250 jobs in five years. This is a $100 million project through the college, which includes a $4.8 million investment from the state and $65 million from private companies.

More than $19 million in equipment purchased by the U.S. Department of Energy is being transferred to Rochester from SVTC, a former California-based solar company, according to the state.

“It’s going to position New York state to be a leader, especially to develop solar energy,” Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said at a news conference, and it will attract investments from other industry leaders.

It’s here that Duffy hopes will be the hub of Rochester’s new economy: Solar power. While Rochester isn’t exactly known for it’s sunshine, direct sunshine isn’t needed to manufacture the parts for what green industry leaders see as the most efficient form of alternative energy. At 115 Canal Landing Blvd., company workers will study how to get the cost of solar power from $5 a watt to $1.

“Solar energy is the most credible source of green energy, in terms of manufacturing, in terms of reliability, in terms of event costs and in terms of how quickly it gets to the market,” said Alain Kaloyeros, the college’s chief executive officer. “It’s most likely to replace the carbon-based fuels and their many implications.”

Kaloyeros said Duffy fought for the facility to be located in Rochester.

The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council is starting to see businesses come in as Rochester’s innovation economy is taking off, Duffy said. “Transformation is taking place across New York sate,” Duffy said. “It’s about jobs, it’s about creating energy, and it’s a great adaptive reuse of this Kodak building.”

Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester and co-chair of the Finger Lakes council, said one of the most important aspects of the council’s economic development plan “was to identify a post-Kodak future, a future in which we were going to focus on alternative technologies, particularly alternative fuel technology. This announcement is an incredibly consequential step in making that future a reality,” Seligman said.

Employers are attracted to the Rochester area because future leaders are already being trained at UR and Rochester Institute of Technology, Kaloyeros said.

Bill Destler, president of RIT, added, “RIT already has one of the largest photovoltaic programs in the country. ... This is a very natural area for us to work with CNSE (the college) to add our own technical competence to that coming into the area.”