‘Too good to be true’ New York $1B solar boondoggle a warning for Michigan

Promised a manufacturing hub, Buffalo got a Tim Horton’s coffee shop

New York state has plunked down more than $1 billion since 2015 on a Tesla factory that makes solar panels. Building and supplying the plant “was a bad deal,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Journal this week ran a story on the Buffalo-area project, which “was supposed to be the largest solar-panel factory in the Western Hemisphere,” according to the Journal.

The debacle in the Empire State comes as Michigan lawmakers commit large sums of taxpayer money to electric vehicle sites in the Big Rapids and Marshall areas.

James Hohman, the Mackinac Center’s director of fiscal policy, has warned that job announcements are not jobs. Politicians use corporate welfare to facilitate job announcements, as New York politicians did with the Tesla solar factory.

If — and often, when — the jobs numbers don’t deliver, the politicians have either moved on to new posts or other projects (or in the case of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to retirement against his will).

Media outlets that wrote approvingly of the project, based on nothing but watercolor renderings and spin, are ill-inclined to call a foul on themselves. They move on, too. With nobody seeking accountability, there is none.

Government and supportive media have a conflict of interest when it comes to the truth. It took The Wall Street Journal to expose the broken promise in Buffalo. It took HBO’s Real Sports to expose the broken promise of The District Detroit. The journalists closest to the situation were too busy waving pompoms. They were supporters, not reporters.

The people of Buffalo were promised a “manufacturing hub.” They got a Tim Horton’s. As The Journal reports:

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.

“It was a bad deal,” the Journal quotes New York state Sen. Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo. “A cautionary tale is you can’t give governors too much power to get on the phone with egotistical billionaires.”

The Mackinac Center maintains statistics on job creation at subsidized projects in Michigan. The promises of corporate welfare are rarely met. The New York factory created just enough jobs to avoid a penalty.

The promises were bellowed. The results were whispered.

What have we learned?

Next week, there will be another press conference. Another announcement. More renderings. Big numbers thrown about. Breathless headlines published.

And no follow-through from the usual suspects.

James David Dickson is managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.