New York backs possible Panasonic role at SolarCity factory

Posted October 17

— New York officials on Monday praised word that electric car maker Tesla is talking with Japanese electronics giant Panasonic about collaborating with sister company SolarCity to make solar panels at a massive factory being developed near Buffalo.

And Empire State Development head Howard Zemsky said in any case, the company will be held to job creation promises made when the state committed $750 million to build and outfit the plant, the centerpiece of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's "Buffalo Billion" program.

Zemsky said the details of any future relationships between the companies will be left to them, but the state will have an "oversight role" when it comes to jobs.

SolarCity has committed to investing $5 billion over 10 years in New York state, hiring almost 1,500 workers at the Buffalo plant for five years and employing at least 2,000 more people across the state in exchange for use of the 1.2 million-square-foot, state-owned plant. Its contract with the state calls for stiff financial penalties for falling short.

The San Mateo, California, company's plans have been clouded by a string of money-losing quarters, regular reductions in its estimates of how many roof-top systems it will install, the bankruptcy of a competitor and federal bid-rigging charges against state officials and the construction company building the plant.

Palo Alto, California-based Tesla will acquire SolarCity for $2.6 billion if both company's shareholders approve the deal in November. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is chairman of SolarCity, which is run by two of his cousins.

Panasonic confirmed it is studying a collaboration but released no details about what Tesla described as a "non-binding letter of intent." SolarCity did not respond to an email inquiry.

Zemsky said Panasonic will contribute expertise in converting silicon wafers to solar cells that SolarCity would use in producing solar panels. He said SolarCity still intends to use technology it acquired when it bought solar manufacturer Silevo, New York's original partner in a project much smaller than the current one.


Follow Walsh on Twitter at @gmwalshAP


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