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SolarCity merger called an 'enormous win' for the region

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Albany is expressing confidence in the future of the SolarCity plant in South Buffalo, after stockholders of both SolarCity and car company Tesla Motors agreed to a merger. Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky says the deal solidifies Panasonic's plan to make solar cells for the solar panels. SolarCity recently announced plans to make entire solar roofs for houses, using the Riverbend plant technology.

Zemsky called the approval "an enormous win for Buffalo and the entire Western New York region."

“We have always strongly believed in the economic impact of the RiverBend transformation and today’s news makes the future even brighter for Buffalo,” Zemsky said, in a statement.

There have been high cost estimates for those solar roofs, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the costs are under control.

"The costs will obviously vary according to the size of the house and the difficulties of the installation. But, the important thing is that the apples to apples comparison compared to a regular roof, we're confident will be at least at, and we believe slightly below, the cost of a regular roof and then the electricity is just a bonus," Musk said Thursday.

Speaking to a special Tesla meeting to vote on the merger, Musk said there are opportunities to lower roof costs because conventional roof costs reflect inefficient distribution systems and fragile roofing material, much more fragile than the solar panels.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on Friday, called the merger approval "a major victory for Buffalo and the latest sign of success in Western New York's economic resurgence."

"After decades of decline, Buffalo is booming today, with thousands of new jobs, thriving businesses, and incredible economic momentum. Our investments in SolarCity and other visionary companies have transformed Buffalo's economic landscape and set a national example for innovation and revitalization. This merger brings together two titans of green technology, combining the strengths of the nation's largest electric car company with the nation's biggest rooftop solar installer to cement Buffalo's status as the pinnacle of solar energy and sustainable enterprise," a statement read.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, during a visit Friday morning to Buffalo, suggested the deal shows confidence in SolarCity's plans and should silence many naysayers. She praised shareholders for approving the merger.

"You are saying we have the confidence of a company like Tesla Motors in SolarCity and to have the resources of Panasonic as well," Hochul said. "We are now going to be the manufacturing center for the world's largest integrated sustainable energy company in the whole country and the world."

Invest Buffalo Niagara President and CEO Thomas Kucharski says the money going into building the plant is attracting attention from across the world from potential Solar City suppliers and customers.

"It's got a lot of benefit to our region that the average citizen probably doesn't realize because they are not out there trying to attract the ancillary business around it and having those discussions. But, it certainly put us on the radar worldwide," Kucharski said.

Solar City is now installing production equipment in the plant and the company website lists a number of high-tech and well-paid jobs still to be filled.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown noted Friday that SolarCity is just one company that is working to transform the Riverbend section. Longtime local mechanical contractor Danforth purchased several acres last year to build a new operations hub.

"To have a company of that tremendous reputation be interested in making a significant investment in Riverbend attracts a lot more business investment interest," Brown said. "We feel very good about the interest in Riverbend, the investment interest that exists, but we feel good about the investment interest overall in the City of Buffalo."

(WBFO's Michael Mroziak contributed to this report.)

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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