SolarCity subpoenaed over N.Y. gigafactory

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SolarCity Corp., the largest U.S. solar installer, said Friday it has been subpoenaed in a broad investigation of state contracts and lobbying in New York.

The development, first reported by Newsday, involves a probe by Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, of state construction projects, including those tied to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) $1 billion plan to boost the economy in Buffalo, N.Y. SolarCity is building a solar panel gigafactory in the city with a $750 million investment from the state as part of Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative.

Newsday reported that the U.S. attorney’s office is examining the selection process and political connections of the construction firm behind the Buffalo SolarCity plant. It also subpoenaed multiple entities involved with other unrelated state projects, such as the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute. Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The U.S. attorney’s office said it does not comment on subpoenas.

In a statement, SolarCity spokeswoman Kady Cooper said that SolarCity is not the subject or focus of the investigation and was not involved in the vendor selection or contracting process at the facility.

“The U.S. attorney’s office did request information from us to aid in the investigation, and we will cooperate fully. Construction of the facility is proceeding well, and we are looking forward to working with New York State to accelerate the full-scale production schedule — it’s premature to speculate on any impact the investigation might have on the project timeline,” Cooper said to Greenwire.

The 1.2 million-square-foot manufacturing facility is expected to produce 10,000 solar panels daily and support 1,400 Buffalo jobs when fully operational next year, according to SolarCity. The company worked with New York to expand the facility’s scope fivefold after it acquired solar panel producer Silevo Inc. in 2014. At the time, Silevo had a deal in place with New York for a solar manufacturing facility in Buffalo.

Earlier this week, SolarCity’s stock had one of its worst collapses in months after the company reported disappointing first-quarter results and lower planned solar panel installations for the year. Other solar companies also experienced stock trouble, partly out of concern of pushback against net metering in various states.

The company, whose chairman is Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk, said many of the regulatory uncertainties had “been settled” in its favor (Greenwire, May 12).