Sun power could turn on thousands of new jobs in WNY

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Plans for a new industrial corridor in Buffalo are hinging on the power of the sun.

A corporate merger in California could brighten the economic impact of a new technology park planned for South Buffalo. Instead of creating hundreds of new high-tech jobs, it would create thousands.

SolarCity Corp., a solar panel designer and installer headquartered in San Mateo, California, is buying Silevo, a solar panel manufacturer based in Fremont, California.

Silevo was going to be one of the anchors at the state-owned RiverBend complex, a brownfield site along the Buffalo River where Republic Steel used to operate. Now officials are talking on a much grander scale.

“We went from being partners with a private small engineering technology company, to being partners with a $6 billion company that is one of the leading green energy companies in the world,” said local developer Howard Zemsky, co-chairs of Governor Cuomo’s Western New York Economic Development Council.

Zemsky believes the state’s partnership with Silevo could be expanded with SolarCity, doubling the number of new jobs.

SolarCity officials are talking about building the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the world, to accommodate a growing demand for clean, renewable energy.

“We are looking at advanced manufacturing here,” said Ryan McPherson, Chief Sustainability Officer for the University at Buffalo.

McPherson oversees the “Solar Strand” at UB’s North Campus, the largest assembly of solar panels at a SUNY campus in the state, and says, “We are looking at how can we create photovoltaics that are higher percentage yields, and with that, therefore more skilled labor and higher skilled labor to do that.”

Photovoltaics is the technology in solar panels that transforms light into electrical current. McPherson conceded renewable resources, such as solar power, are heavily dependent on government and state subsidies, but he also stressed, technology and growing demand are leveling the playing field.

Elon Musk, chairman of SolarCity Corp. said as much in a telephone conference with the press, Tuesday.

“Obviously, the demand grows exponentially as the price drops.”

Musk also said, as solar technology improves, efficiency will improve, and solar power won’t be as dependent on government subsidies, “and you can imagine that it really grows at an enormous pace if we are able to compete with grid-powered electricity, without any incentives.”

The question remains, though, will this solar plan be a shining success, or go the way of Solyndra, another California-based solar panel manufacturer touted by President Barack Obama that went out of business in 2011, costing taxpayers $500 million.

Right now, there is no timetable for breaking ground on the SolarCity project at RiverBend.

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