Here Comes the Sun: Ciminelli's SolarCity Project
The utility area speaks to the specific high-tech requirements of a solar panel factory. The utility building will occupy 250,000 sq ft and will be “the brains and the guts” of the factory, Ciminelli says.
It will have an electrical substation, a boiler plant and a gas distribution center to move the 16 different industrial gases required in making solar panels to the proper place on the production lines. It will also house a water treatment plant.
That plant will have its own $9-million water purification system capable of providing the factory with five different levels of water purity, ranging from tap water to water that has as little as 1 micron of impurity. It will also have an $18-million to $20-million wastewater treatment plant that will be able to take in up to 1,200 gallons of water per minute and recycle up to 75% of the water that the factory will use.
Crews began putting up the plant’s structural steel in mid-February. Roofers and plumbers started working at the site in the spring. It is such a big building, “you can’t wait for one guy to get out of the way so you can begin,” Ciminelli says.
The factory will require 14 million lb of reinforcing steel and 6,187 tons of structural steel, delivered in three to seven loads of steel per day. The project topped out in the first half of July.
The plan is to finish enclosing the factory’s shell by October so SolarCity can start bringing in its equipment. Testing and production will begin next year, with full production expected in the first quarter of 2017.
When it is complete, the factory will have five separate assembly lines, each able to produce enough solar panels to generate 200 MW.
It is not just the size and scope of the project that is large. The state program that got the ball rolling also had outsized ambitions for the local economy.
At its peak, the SolarCity worksite is expected to employ 1,460 workers, with another 1,440 jobs created by the facility’s suppliers and service providers in the Buffalo area. “It has been a real game changer for Buffalo,” Ciminelli says.