The giant solar module factory at Riverbend in South Buffalo already has quite a tumultuous history, despite its brief existence. It was born out of a deal between the state of New York and solar panel startup Silevo, which was bought by SolarCity in 2014; in turn, SolarCity was acquired by Tesla last week, who inherited the plant.
In actuality, what Telsa inherited was a free lease for the plant, not the plant itself; since the state paid the $750 million to build the factory and buy most of the equipment it will use, it’s the state that still technically owns the plant.
But an investigation that led to charges against the plant’s contractor for alleged illegal lobbying efforts with the goal of getting picked by the state for the construction of the plant has been slowing down some of the financing to complete payments to contractors and sub-contractors. The present situation is that contractors have not been paid since September for work done since July.
Fortunately (for Tesla at least), most of the work at the plant is completed and they are now working on installing manufacturing equipment to start solar panel and solar roof production next year, therefore the lack of payment is not delaying the completion of the factory.
Buffalo News reports that the government body in charge of the project confirmed that contractors will be paid to complete the work, but they didn’t disclose when:
“State officials said contractors will be paid, but the payments have been held up because of extra scrutiny they are receiving in the wake of the corruption charges that have been filed over the process used to select Buffalo contractor LPCiminelli to manage construction on the Buffalo Billion’s signature project.”
SolarCity took over the 1.2 million-square-foot plant just last month, a few weeks before officially merging with Tesla and the announcement that the automaker will be partnering with Panasonic to manufacture solar cells at the factory.
They will combine SolarCity’s Silevo technology with Panasonic’s own proven solar cell technology to manufacture new solar modules for Tesla’s residential and commercial projects, as well as the new solar roof products unveiled last month.