New York State Built Elon Musk a $1 Billion Factory. ‘It Was a Bad Deal.’

July 6, 2023

Wall Street Journal: New York State Built Elon Musk a $1 Billion Factory. ‘It Was a Bad Deal.’

From the Wall Street Journal:

Two men are on top of a roof installing solar panels.
Source: Tesla Impact Report

BUFFALO, N.Y.—New York spent nearly $1 billion over the past decade on Elon Musk’s ambitious plan for what was supposed to be the largest solar-panel factory in the Western Hemisphere, one of the largest-ever public cash outlays of its kind.

“You almost have to pinch yourself, right?” New York’s then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a construction ceremony for the factory in 2015. “That this is too good to be true.”

Eight years later, that looks like a pretty good assessment.

New York state paid to build a quarter-mile-long facility with 1.2 million square feet of industrial space, which it now owns and leases to Tesla for $1 a year. It bought $240 million worth of solar-panel manufacturing equipment. Musk had said that by 2020 the Buffalo plant each week would churn out enough solar-panel shingles to cover 1,000 roofs.

The Tesla solar-energy unit behind the plan, however, is averaging just 21 installations a week, according to energy analysts at Wood Mackenzie who reviewed utility data. The building houses some factory workers, but also hundreds of lower-paid desk-bound data analysts working on other Tesla business.

The suppliers that Cuomo predicted would flock to a modern manufacturing hub never showed up. The only new nearby business is a Tim Horton’s coffee shop. Most of the solar-panel manufacturing equipment bought by the state has been sold at a discount or scrapped.

A state comptroller’s audit found just 54 cents of economic benefit for every subsidy dollar spent on the factory, which rose on the site of an old steel mill. External auditors have written down nearly all of New York’s investment.  …

America’s governors are swept up in an arms race of awarding packages of taxpayer money to attract industrial megaprojects. Contributing are President Biden’s federal subsidies to build up U.S. manufacturing, particularly for electric-vehicle battery and semiconductor plants, some of which require states to kick in additional incentives.

Last year, states gave each of eight company facilities more than $1 billion in tax breaks and other aid, according to Good Jobs First, a subsidy tracker funded partly by labor unions. Until then, there had never been a year with more than three such deals.

Read the full story at the Wall Street Journal (paywall).