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SolarCity construction nears completion

With installation of equipment planned to start next month, plant is expected to start making solar panels by the end of June

Construction is winding down at the sprawling SolarCity factory in South Buffalo, and here is the first look inside the building that will be the home to the biggest solar panel plant in the Western Hemisphere.

The photos come courtesy of a state economic development agency’s update on the project, which states the structure is scheduled for “substantial completion” by September 15.

The building shell is about 99 percent complete, while about 95 percent of the work has been done on the factory’s mechanical, electrical and process systems, according to an update from state officials earlier this month.

Workers need to finish the process systems to install tools in the facility, as well as complete the electrical substation to provide permanent power to the 1.2 million-square-foot complex. The facility is expected to be finished by Sept. 15.



Once that happens, SolarCity will be able to start installing equipment in the factory, which is expected to start producing solar panels by the end of June for a new roofing product that the company plans to launch in the coming months. The new product will be a roofing product with solar power generating capabilities built in.

The state is spending $750 million, and SolarCity is putting in $150 million as part of the Buffalo Billion initiative to construct the $900 million facility. The state’s investment, part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative, is part of a larger commitment by the company to spend over $5 billion on capital, operations and supply chain over the next decade, while creating 1,500 jobs in Buffalo and 5,000 statewide.

The plant’s original plan called for producing enough solar panels to generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity, although Peter Rive, SolarCity’s chief technology officer, said this month that improvements to the equipment design and factory layout could allow it to produce more than 1 gigawatt in panels.

SolarCity initially had planned to start making solar panels at the Buffalo factory this year, but the company’s slower growth and financial constraints forced it to push some of the investments it needed to open the factory until next year, which delayed its timetable for beginning production until late 2017.

But SolarCity said this month it was moving up that timetable because of its plans to start selling a roofing product that has solar panels built in, using the high-efficiency modules it will produce in Buffalo. The initial production at the Buffalo plant will center around the new integrated roofing-solar panel product.

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