ALBANY, N.Y. – New York invested $750 million to help build a solar-panel plant in Buffalo. Now the plant might prove helpful in the fight against coronavirus.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company’s solar factory hopes to begin to make ventilators as soon as possible at the sprawling Riverbend plant that has struggled for years to meet the state’s lofty expectations.
“Giga New York will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible,” Musk tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “We will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York.”
The comments from Musk came after the Ireland-based company Medtronic said it has already started working with Tesla to fast track production of ventilators at a California plant.
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The decision in Buffalo comes after production at the solar plant has been temporarily shuttered because of New York’s ban last week on all non-essential businesses and services.
Ventilators are in desperate need in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said daily.
The state needs 30,000 ventilators to address a shortage of ventilators as the number of positive cases exceeded 30,000 on Wednesday.
The state only has about 4,000 ventilators.
“We’re still working with the federal government to try to find more ventilators, but that is our single greatest challenge,” Cuomo said Wednesday.
Last month, Panasonic Corp. said it would end its production of solar panels at the Buffalo plant.
But the California-based Tesla has vowed to continue production at the facility, telling the state it was producing about 1,000 residential solar roofs a week at its so-called Gigafactory New York
Before the coronavirus brought production to a halt, Tesla promised to employ 1,460 people at the Buffalo plant by April.
It would have faced a $41 million penalty from the state it didn’t meet the job-creation goals that were set when New York lured the company to New York seven years ago as part of the Buffalo Billion initiative.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, had urged Musk earlier this week to make ventilators in Buffalo. He told the Buffalo News that it appears Tesla will look to make components for ventilators at the plant to help production by Medtronic.
“They are guardedly optimistic they can produce some of the parts that Medtronic is having a hard time sourcing,” Ryan told the paper.
Follow Joseph Spector, the New York state editor for the USA TODAY Network on Twitter: @GannettAlbany