Tesla CEO plans solar production facility for Buffalo

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Elon Musk. (Photo by Todd Williamson Invision for Sony Pictures Classics/AP Images)
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ALBANY—A solar company led by the founder of Tesla Motors is working with the state to build one of the world's largest solar manufacturing facilities in Buffalo, which could create more than a thousand jobs.

SolarCity Corporation announced Tuesday that it acquired Silevo, a solar panel technology and manufacturing company that produces low-cost panels that yield a high energy output. The company believes the acquisition will help it expand significantly, Tesla C.E.O. Elon Musk said in a statement.

“At a targeted capacity greater than 1 GW (gigawatts) within the next two years, it will be one of the single largest solar panel production plants in the world,” Musk said in a joint statement with Peter Rive, chief technology officer at SolarCity. “This will be followed in subsequent years by one or more significantly larger plants at an order of magnitude greater annual production capacity.”

Silevo announced plans to move into the RiverBend facility on the former Republic Steel property in November. The company initially wanted to build a 200 megawatt production facility. Tuesday's announcement means the facility will have five times the capacity and produce almost three times the number of jobs, Rive said in an interview on Tuesday.

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“We're excited and we're seeing great growth in New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey,” said Rive, a cousin of Musk. “It's one of our highest growth markets.”

The facility, which is expected to be at capacity by 2016, will be powered by hydropower from nearby Niagara Falls, Rive said. The ability to get great cheap clean power was one of the primary attractions to grow the company in New York, he said. He said the company is in talks to participate in the Start-Up New York program, which would provide tax breaks. The state has already agreed to put $225 million into the facility, which will contain other green technology companies.

New York recently announced a major new solar program that will contribute $1 billion to the industry over the next decade. Under the NY-Sun program different regions of the state will have targeted growth for solar installations. In his budget, Cuomo also included a solar plan that would make schools solar hubs for communities.

SolarCity installed nearly a third of all U.S. residential solar panels in the United States in the third quarter of 2013. Rive said the panels made in Buffalo will be sold throughout the country.