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DiNapoli approves last $121 million in SolarCity project payments

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has approved the remaining $121 million in payments for outstanding invoices on the SolarCity construction project at Riverbend, helping to avoid a second round of temporary layoffs after an embarrassing snafu earlier in the year caused a payroll crunch.

The funds will cover the remainder of a larger $154 million in vendor bills from mid-February through mid-May that hadn’t been paid on the massive $900 million project in South Buffalo. That had threatened to wreak havoc on the contractors, especially smaller firms that couldn’t afford to float their workers’ salaries any longer without being reimbursed.

The state made good on the first $33 million earlier this week, amid significant pressure to avert a repeat of what happened four months ago, when as many as 200 union workers were briefly furloughed because of the backlog.

The newest payments to construction manager LPCiminelli, and then to its subcontractors, still have to flow through a circuitous path through two state entities before getting to the companies. But DiNapoli’s approval was the last procedural hurdle, after the money was already authorized by the State Legislature, green-lighted by the state Public Authorities Control Board, and approved by a Manhattan attorney that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hired to monitor project funding in the midst of a federal probe.

The enormous facility being constructed on 88 acres is Cuomo’s signature economic development project within his Buffalo Billion initiative. The state is spending $750 million, with SolarCity kicking in another $150 million, to construct the largest solar-panel manufacturing facility in North America, with 1.2 million square feet of space filled with sophisticated equipment. SolarCity, which says it will spend $5 billion over the next 10 years on capital, operations and supply chain, has pledged to create 1,450 jobs, with a minimum of 500 at the plant itself and another 950 in various other jobs in the area. And it has projected an additional 1,500 spinoff or support jobs as a result of the new plant.

Construction of the facility itself is nearing completion, with officials hoping to start installing equipment this summer. The California-based company is expecting to open and begin operations by the end of 2017.