By Samantha St. Marie
In September, SolarCity and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the former Republic Steel building, located along the Buffalo River, would be transformed into a new solar-panel plant that is expected to become the largest manufacturing center for SolarCity thus far.
Production is expected to begin as early as 2016 and could bring upwards of 1,500 factory jobs and 2,000 statewide installation and coordinating positions to the region.
Brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive founded SolarCity, an American provider of commercial and residential solar panels, in 2006. Within the past eight years, the company has expanded to serve thousands of customers and over 400 schools in 15 states. SolarCity also supplies some hefty corporate clients, including Wal-Mart, HP, eBay, Walgreens and Intel.
The expertise and success of SolarCity, which has regional offices in Albany, Westchester and on Long Island, is good news for New York’s economy and the general public.
Already, many homeowners in New York are investing in solar panels to power their homes.
It is likely that more residents will follow suit in the coming years, just as the state plans to invest over $30 billion in repairing New York’s aging infrastructure.
Investments will also spill over into funding a new initiative called Reforming the Energy Vision or REV.
The goal of the program is to promote energy efficiency and provide incentives, such as tax breaks for homeowners who use solar power.
The program incentives are not just limited to solar panel installations. In the near future, customers may also earn money for turning off appliances and paying less for electricity at night.
By bringing SolarCity to Buffalo, Gov. Cuomo hopes the business competition among other solar panel providers will foster new ideas about decreasing carbon emissions and will lower electricity and heating expenses for homeowners and businesses.
If all goes well, low costs will increase the quantity of solar panels demanded by consumers, making leading to happier residents and a cleaner environment.
While job creation and renewable energy appears to create benefits for the state, Professor of Economics Tomas Dvorak warns that the public and the government should err on the side of caution.
“What I know is that the solar-panel market is pretty competitive. The high-profile bankruptcy of Solyndra a few years ago is a testimony to that,” Dvorak commented.
He went on to say that “Solyndra’s bankruptcy is also often used as an example of wasted tax-payer subsidies, which Solyndra got in the millions before going bankrupt.”
Dvorak is referring to the scandal that took place in September 2011, when Solyndra, a manufacturer of cylindrical solar panels, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It suddenly laid off all of the company’s workers, and in the process cost taxpayers $535 million in federal loan guarantees.
President Obama toured the company and praised Solyndra for its innovation in clean energy just months before the company closed its doors.
According to auditors and financial advisors, the shutdown was inevitable.
The company could not compete with the flood of panel manufacturers in the market and a fall in the price of polysilcon, a hyper-pure form of silicon that was not used by Solyndra but was used by rival businesses.
The same may happen to SolarCity if the Cuomo administration offers subsidies to the company for its new plant in Buffalo. There is always the chance a company could fail in a region, and as a consequence, tax money could be lost.
Dvorak points out, “In general, subsidizing certain industries is not a sound economic policy. Taxpayers’ money should be used for public goods: infrastructure, education, basic research — not to support a specific industry.”
If SolarCity and the state government work together but keep the funding separate, then the benefits of the company entering the region will be far-reaching.
Educational opportunities will likely pop up, which give the chance for young engineers to receive job training at a manufacturing plant. Residents may have more control over the cost of their electric bills and may become less dependent on distant transmission systems through the usage of their own solar grids at home.
Hundreds of new jobs promise to improve the market in upstate New York and bring attention to the state’s achievements in renewable energy.
In upcoming years, New York residents and the Union community will be watching and participating in the anticipated success and longevity of SolarCity’s new solar plant in Buffalo.