Energy

Tesla solar factory in NY caught in the crossfire of Buffalo Billion corruption case

[Credit: Derek Gee/The Buffalo News]

A high-profile developer connected to Tesla’s solar factory in Buffalo, NY was convicted last Thursday of rigging the bids for several state-funded contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. During his sentencing last week, former SUNY Polytechnic Institute president Alain Kaloyeros was found by a Manhattan judge guilty of two counts of wire fraud and one count of wire fraud conspiracy.

Kaloyeros was, at one point, a prominent ally of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s Southern District, the 62-year-old developer crafted contract-bidding documents to ensure that high-profile, taxpayer-funded construction projects were granted to two companies that have close ties with the NY governor. Among these is Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 facility in Buffalo, NY, which is tasked with manufacturing photovoltaic cells for the company’s Solar Roof tiles and solar panels. The Tesla solar factory contract was worth $750 million and is considered a centerpiece of the “Buffalo Billion,” a plan by the NY governor designed to push the city’s economy forward.

The contract for Tesla’s solar factory was granted to LPCiminelli, whose president, Louis Ciminelli, was also convicted on Thursday of felonies. Two other individuals,  Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi of COR Development were also convicted last week.

Prior to being dubbed as Tesla’s Gigafactory 2, the 1.2 million-square-foot factory in Buffalo began as a SolarCity facility that was to be used as a clean energy business incubation center. Construction for the factory began in September 2014 and completed in 2017. Development for the expansive facility was assigned to SUNY Polytechnic Institute, which was led by the now-convicted Kaloyeros. With the acquisition of SolarCity in 2016, the site eventually came to be known as Gigafactory 2.

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While Gigafactory 2 does not make the news as much as the company’s massive Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada, the site, nevertheless, has been quietly ramping its activities in preparation for mass production of Tesla photovoltaic cells. Back in January, the Trump administration announced that it would be placing a 30% tariff on solar system components that are imported abroad. In response to these additional duties, a Tesla spokesperson stated that it would continue Gigafactory 2’s expansion regardless of the government’s additional tariffs. Panasonic, Tesla’s battery partner, is also collaborating with the electric car and energy company in Gigafactory 2. Thus, once solar production hits its stride in the Buffalo, NY facility, Tesla would be largely unaffected by extra duties imposed by the US government on important solar components.

Signs of a ramp in Gigafactory 2 started emerging last April when Tesla announced that it was hiring more workers for the site through five rounds of information sessions that are aimed at seeking out potential employees for the facility. The recent information sessions were Tesla’s most extensive hiring initiatives for the factory since the acquisition of SolarCity back in 2016.

Tesla solar factory in NY caught in the crossfire of Buffalo Billion corruption case
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