Share this article

print logo

Rive says SolarCity plant production will be delayed slightly

SolarCity’s Buffalo factory may miss its target to hit full production in the first quarter of 2017, but not by much.

The factory now appears on course to be fully operational during the second quarter of 2017, about three months later than the initial timetable, said Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s chief executive officer, during a stop at the Buffalo factory Tuesday.

“It’s roughly within the same time frame, maybe a little behind,” Rive said.

The $900 million plant, being built and equipped through a $750 million state investment, is expected to employ about 1,460 workers once it hits full production, churning out 9,000 to 10,000 solar panels daily at a factory that will be the biggest solar panel production facility in the Western Hemisphere.

Rive said the company is working to line up its supplier base. He said most of the industrial gases the plant uses are expected to come from a local supplier, likely Praxair.

“We’ll see what we can do to bring some of our aluminum suppliers to the area,” he said.

SolarCity decided to build the Buffalo factory so it would have an in-house source of high-efficiency solar panels that are able to convert a greater percentage of the sun’s energy into electricity. By focusing on more-efficient panels, SolarCity hopes to be able to reduce its costs, since each rooftop system will require fewer panels, a smaller mounting system and less hardware than a comparably sized system using standard efficiency panels. SolarCity’s panels are expected to be able to convert about 21 percent of the sun’s energy into electricity, compared with 15 percent to 18 percent for conventional panels, most of which are made in China.

By the time the plant hits full production, the Buffalo plant will not be sufficient to supply all of SolarCity’s expected needs. At full production, the Buffalo factory will be able to make enough solar panels with the annual capacity to produce 1 gigawatt of electricity.

“As big as this one is, my guess is it won’t even supply half of our needs” by 2018, he said.

Daniel Harvey, SolarCity’s local human resources executive, said the company has collected applications from 1,500 candidates for jobs at the South Park Avenue factory through a website operated by the state Labor Department to prescreen candidates. SolarCity began collecting applications for production jobs last month.

“It’s growing well,” Harvey said.