Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s original plan to redevelop the former Republic Steel site in South Buffalo included Soraa, a California based company that manufactures high efficiency lights. Soraa and Silevo, a solar panel manufacturer, were going to occupy a factory at Riverbend, built at taxpayer expense under the Buffalo Billion program.
SolarCity, owned by Elon Musk, bought out Silevo and the state and Soraa decided to locate the lighting plant in Syracuse. Some $90 million in state funds were spent to build the factory in exchange for a promise of 420 jobs. Like the SolarCity project, the Syracuse plant was ensnared by bidding irregularities that resulted in federal corruption charges against development officials.
On Tuesday, state officials announced that Soraa is walking away from the plant as it nears completion, and will pay no penalty for doing so. State development officials want to earmark another $15 million to recruit another tenant to the building.
Did Buffalo dodge a bullet? Or does the SolarCity project represent an even bigger risk for taxpayers?
The state wound up spending $750 million dollars to build the plant at Riverbend for SolarCity, which was bought late last year by Tesla. The plant was completed more than a year ago, but the company is behind schedule ramping up its operation. It continues to lose both money and market share, and the solar industry as a whole is struggling.
And two years ago, Tesla got the state to agree to modify its escape clause on the Buffalo plant in ways that would make it easier to walk away from the facility.