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Company sees rural Genesee as ‘perfect’ spot for high-tech solar plant

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 October 2015 at 12:00 am

File photo by Tom Rivers – A sign on Route 63, just south of the Ham Road intersection, advertises the STAMP project, which includes 1,250 acres in the Town of Alabama. The Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park is near the southern border of Shelby in Orleans County.

BATAVIA – A Massachusetts company that revolutionized manufacturing silicon carbon wafers – considered “the heart” of solar panels – looked at 300 sites for what could be a $700 million factory.

1366 Technologies picked a farm field near a swamp for the project.

The site off Lewiston Road on Crosby Road is “perfect” for the producing high efficiency multi-crystalline wafers, company leaders said today during an announcement about the project with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders from the Western New York and Finger Lakes region.

1366 Technologies needs a lot of room, and access to major utilities with water, electric, natural gas, as well as access to a highly skilled workforce.

“There is a tremendous talent pool in the region,” said Frank van Mierlo, chief executive officer of 1366 Technologies, which is based in Bedford, Mass. “If you want to change the world, you need talented people.”

The site in the Town of Alabama is close to major gas lines, is only a few miles from the State Thruway, and can tap the labor markets in Rochester and Buffalo. It will also use sewer from the Village of Medina as the company occupies 105 acres of the STAMP site, a 1,250-acre park for high-tech manufacturing.

1366 Technologies also is within the 30-mile radius of the Niagara Falls Power Project, where companies are eligible for low-cost renewable power. 1366 Technologies was approved for up to 8.5 megawatts of hydropower.

The cheaper electricity, with no CO2 emissions, appealed to 1366 Technologies, van Mierlo said.

The company has a new way of manufacturing silicon wafers at 50 percent of the cost of its closest competitor, van Mierlo said. The company forecasts it will produce 600 million high-performance silicon wafers a year, enough to power 360,000 American homes.

At full capacity, the company says it will create more than 1,000 new full-time jobs for the region.

The company runs a site in Bedford, Mass., but the new plant in Genesee County will allow it to go commercial scale. Van Mierlo said his goal is to produce solar at less cost than coal. The company’s manufacturing breakthroughs, as well as other improvements in the solar industry, could drive solar costs down to 5 cents per kilowatt hour, cheaper than coal.

The state put together a package of incentives for $56.3 million. With local incentives, the company could receive $97 million over 10 years if it has a full build-out on the $700 million manufacturing facility. Phase 1 will be $100 million from the company.

Some of those incentives are discounts on property taxes. The land has been low-production farmland.

In the next 10 to 15 years, the STAMP site could attract a dozen companies and become one of the “semi-conductor and nanotechnology centers in the world,” said Joseph Morelle, a Rochester state assemblyman who spoke during today’s announcement. He is also one of the leaders of the State Assembly.

“I think innovation and entrepreneurship is what rebuilding the state is all about,” he said.