- An approval vote by the Public Authorities Control Board for $485 million in funding for the SolarCity project in Buffalo, NY, has been delayed amid scrutiny over the governor's Buffalo Billion program and other projects across the state, according to The Buffalo News.
- Although the SolarCity project has already been allotted $750 million through the state budget for construction and manufacturing equipment, officials said the $485 million — a last-minute line item — is necessary to complete the project.
- The "common thread" of the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan is the fact that many of the projects, including SolarCity's plant, received funding or contracts from SUNY Polytechnic Institute, which, in effect, has been acting as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development agency, according to WGRZ.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara launched his investigation into the Buffalo Billion last year when he subpoenaed records for the SolarCity project, including bid records from general contractor LPCiminelli. In the past few weeks, however, the governor and two of his associates have also been subpoenaed as questions mount about how money and projects are awarded.
The SolarCity project is a part of Riverbend, one of the Buffalo Billion developments intended to reinvigorate the Western New York economy through jobs and investment. When complete, SolarCity will be able to produce 10,000 solar panels per day, which is enough to generate one gigawatt of electricity each year. After receiving its subpoena, SolarCity said it was not involved in selecting a contractor or vendors for the project, so it is only tangential to the investigation, a spokesperson told NewsDay.
Cuomo said the project needs the $485 million to avoid another predicament like the 200-worker layoff in March, a result of late payments from the state in the amount of $82.4 million. Contractors were not paid for up to 120 days, and some resorted to letting workers go when they could no longer buy materials or meet payroll obligations.
Since construction on the plant began, SolarCity has been a boon for employment in the Buffalo area, with a maximum estimated workforce of 1,500.The Buffalo Niagara region of New York has seen construction jobs reach 26,000 as of September, the highest figure in 25 years. The SolarCity project, as well as all the other Buffalo Billion-funded construction projects, include project labor agreements that mandate the use of union labor. SolarCity announced in October that its Buffalo project workforce had exceeded its minority hiring goals.