- The New York Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) voted Wednesday to approve an additional $485 million in funding for the Solar City project in Buffalo, NY. The approval ensures the project's completion, but with additional restrictions pushed by lawmakers, according to the Buffalo News.
- The extra piece of financial support for the 1.2-million-square-foot factory — which is part of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative — is in addition to the $750 million already allotted for construction, equipment and other costs and will also pay for some of the site work cost overruns.
- This additional funding was delayed last week after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara launched an investigation and issued subpoenas to the governor and others for information on how Buffalo Billion contracts were awarded under the program, in addition to the operating practices of other state development initiatives.
The PACB's additional requirements for releasing funds for the SolarCiy project include:
- Removal of "vague language" in the original funding resolution that might allow money earmarked for SolarCity to be used elsewhere
- More responsibility on the part of the SUNY Polytechnic organization to monitor and report on job creation estimates at the factory
- Increased internal and external review of project spending
In response to questions about whether anyone associated with the project acted illegally or unethically, Cuomo told reporters, "There are questions about what one or two people did … let’s find out what those one or two people did." He said he would "be the first one to throw the book" if it turns out anyone "did something wrong," according to the Times Union.
Other issues raised by lawmakers include whether or not the SolarCity project will benefit Western New York as significantly as promised and if the Buffalo Billion management is prepared to be held responsible for the "day-to-day running" of the larger RiverBend project where SolarCity is located.
Cuomo's administration said the project needed the additional $485 million to make sure there were no more situations like the 200-worker layoff earlier this year, when late payments from the state in the amount of $82.4 million left contractors unpaid for three to four months, after which they could no longer afford to pay workers or other project bills.
Bharara started 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 several weeks, the governor and two of his associates were subpoenaed as questions mounted about how money and projects are awarded.
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.