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SolarCity says investigators sought information as part of Buffalo Billion probe

Federal investigators looking into the Buffalo Billion have requested information from SolarCity, the California-based rooftop solar energy systems installer, whose solar panel factory in South Buffalo is the keystone of the state’s high-profile economic development initiative.

SolarCity is not the focus of the investigation, a company spokesman said Monday.

The spokesman also said it was “premature” to speculate on how the ongoing investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara will have on the timeline for completing construction of the $900 million factory. The plant would be the biggest solar panel production facility in the Western Hemisphere, now scheduled to open next year.

“We’re not the focus of the investigation, but the U.S. Attorney’s office did request information from us to aid in the investigation, and we will cooperate fully,” Jonathan Bass, SolarCity’s vice president of communications, said in a statement in response to questions from The Buffalo News.

Bass noted that SolarCity has not been directly involved with the construction of the 1 million-square-foot solar panel factory that is being built on South Park Avenue. Under the company’s deal with the state, New York is paying $750 million to build the factory and install sophisticated production equipment that SolarCity will use to make its solar panels. The company, which has agreed to spend up to $150 million of its own money on the project, will lease the factory from the state for $1 a year, plus utilities, over a 10-year term.

“We were not involved in the vendor selection or contracting process for the facility,” Bass said.

Construction on the factory has been underway since May 2014 and the shell of the building is expected to be completed within a few months. By fall, the core of the SolarCity factory is expected to be completed and the company is expected to start installing some equipment.

The state’s financial commitment to the SolarCity project has been fully funded, with the final block of funding included in the state budget that was approved a month ago.

Bass said it’s not known whether the investigation could affect that timetable.

“It’s premature at this point to speculate on any impact the investigation might have on the project timeline,” he said.

The solar panel factory is the biggest single piece of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development plan, with SolarCity pledging to bring 2,900 jobs to the Buffalo Niagara region, either at the plant itself or at other companies that provide supplies and services to the facility.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com