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California Pulls Out All Stops to Land Tesla Gigafactory

Leon Kaye | Wednesday August 13th, 2014 | 5 Comments
Tesla Motors, Gigafactory, California, CEQA, California Environmental Quality Act, clean technology, Leon Kaye, battery technology, lithium ion batteries

Could California be the home of a future Tesla Gigafactory?

Tesla Motors‘ proposed “Gigafactory,” Elon Musk’s vision of a massive factory that would revamp the global supply chain for lithium-ion batteries and then sharply reduce their cost, still does not have an official location.

California was not even on the radar, as rumor had it the Reno, Nevada area was the frontrunner to land this factory that promises to employ up to 6,500 people — in fact, excavation of a proposed site has already been completed. Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were also in the running in the event negotiations.

But suddenly California is making the charge to woo Tesla Motors. According to the Los Angeles Times, California lawmakers would exempt Tesla, Panasonic and other potential partners from some of the state’s environmental regulations in order to move the Gigafactory forward. Democrats and Republicans are working with Gov. Jerry Brown’s office to pass legislation that would reduce the factory’s cost by as much as 10 percent.

Key to the Gigafactory establishing roots in California would be a rollback of some of the regulations that comprise the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Revered by environmentalists as much as it is reviled by business groups, CEQA, signed into law by Gov. Ronald Reagan more than 40 years ago, has produced a massive body of environmental regulations that would overwhelm even the most seasoned environmental or business lawyer.

CEQA’s overall function is to oversee environmental reviews, mitigate potential damage by new construction and development projects, encourage public participation in the state’s environmental review process and improve cooperation between state agencies when it comes to making decisions that could have an impact on the state’s environment. Business interests claim the laws make California a difficult state in which to conduct commerce; nearby states have been able to lure companies away from California in part because of CEQA’s extensive reach. Public interest groups respond: Communities have a voice in how land is developed and point to public health and safety benefits. Now the state is poised to make some changes in the law to promote a gigantic clean technology project.

So why would California’s state leaders suddenly make a pitch to Tesla Motors and Mr. Musk, even though he has said the state’s chances of landing the Gigafactory are a “long shot?” After all, Gov. Brown is expected to cruise to re-election over his Republican opponent — though he has also been the subject of plenty of barbs over Toyota’s recent decision to relocate its U.S. headquarters to Texas from the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle are cooperating, a rare spectacle in the state capitol.

At a time when all red and blue states are pursuing more clean technology investment (depending, of course, on who the donors are), any politician would want a project like that of Tesla Motors as part of his or her legacy. The timing of California’s pitch is also prescient: A few years ago, the state’s finances were such a mess that a half-billion dollar incentive package would have gone nowhere in Sacramento. Still on shaky ground, the state’s budget has improved. So, in the eyes of many, now is the chance to land a project that would have an economic multiplier effect and boost California’s reputation as the go-to place for clean technology. Or as one San Jose Mercury News writer has opined, such a move will put “CEQA in a shredder.”

Image credit: Tesla Motors

Leon Kaye has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past year and is on his way back to California. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.


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  • Jim5437532

    The proposed incentives, subsidizing rich polluters.

    Some legislators are considering giving Tesla more EPA waivers, yet touting it as environmentally friendly. It’s a snow job. Where are all the Tesla fan boys that have been spamming news comments claiming that Tesla is environmentally friendly? Why aren’t they raising Cain about proposals to put the government and greedy big business like Tesla in bed together, to further pollute our environment and exploit our resources?

    Why are most if not all of the areas that Tesla is considering for a battery factory, areas that are likely do more harm to the environment and puts more strain on our resources? Why are most places that are being considered, places that heavy metals and other toxic chemicals from manufacturing Tesla batteries, are more likely to contaminate the soil and water table? Why are most, if not all places being considered, areas that there are water shortages? Why aren’t the Tesla fan boys that claim to care about our environment and society; not complaining that the Tesla plant will be diverting more water away from agriculture for food, to manufacturing? Just goes to show that Tesla fan boys don’t really care about the environment, our natural resources, our food supply, our economy, the poor, etc…

    Goes to show you many of the people that claim they are promoting “clean technology” are eager to destroy the environment for money. They are liars.

  • Tangair

    This is a Jump The Shark moment for Tesla. If they take the bribe from California, they show an inept long-term vision for their company. Several other venues offer overall reduced operational costs with much higher quality of life for their expansive workforce. They’ve pulled permits for groundwork in Nevada, so I’m pretty certain that the business minds will prevail over the marketing department.

  • Orinoco 89

    Proximity aside, this factory should be built in a brownfield site in Detroit or elsewhere in the midwest. Far cheaper, no subsidies needed, immediate access to ports and rail. Very bad to put this kind of thing in a water stressed, non-urban area.

    • Leon Kaye

      Good point!

      • Shawn

        The TESLA factory is located in California. The point is to produce the batteries for LESS to make them viable on a larger scale and produce a mid price vehicle ($35,000). Shipping heavy batteries, delays etc. is a waste of time and money. Cardboard box companies learned this lesson ages ago. Produce them near the location you use them.