Tesla-Panasonic partnership helping power SolarCity's future

Oct 18, 2016

An agreement between electric car maker Tesla and its battery maker Panasonic to begin making photovoltaic cells and modules at SolarCity in Buffalo is being hailed a good news for Western New York's economy.

Tesla and Panasonic have entered into a non-binding letter of intent to partner further on sustainable energy. The companies already have a long-standing business relationship.

If on November 17 shareholders vote to approve further collaboration and the acquisition of SolarCity by Tesla, production could begin at South Buffalo's RiverBend in 2017. Tesla intends to provide a long-term purchase commitment for those PV cells from Panasonic.

With the aid of installation, sales and financing capabilities from SolarCity, Tesla said it will be able to bring an integrated sustainable energy solution to residential, commercial and grid-scale customers.

Governor Andrew Cuomo is praising agreement, saying the PV cells are "a central plank of SolarCity's solar panel production" and would further cement "Western New York's future as a leader in clean power technology."

The Governor's Western New York Economic Development Chief Howard Zemsky agrees.

"You know, anytime you've got Tesla as a partner - with over $20 billion of market capitalization - and you've got Panasonic as a collaborator - with over $20 billion worth of market capitalization - I wouldn't know how you could position yourself any better for success in this industry," said Zemsky, CEO of Empire State Development. "What it says to me is, 'We are positioning ourselves to win in a very competitive industry' and that's really what I care about most, what we care about most."

Although not a current target of the U.S. Attorney's Buffalo Billion probe, the construction of SolarCity at RiverBend is being paid for with $750 million in state funds for a 10-year commitment. The company's production future also has been in doubt at times and its stock value has wavered.

Zemsky said the Tesla-Panasonic agreement is a key piece of the supply-demand puzzle for SolarCity and "very positive."

"I think we have taken a long view of the role of clean energy in the economy, of the growth of clean energy in the economy and the leading market share that SolarCity has," said Zemsky, "and I think the partnership, the collaboration with Panasonic only strengthens their position further."