Is Crony Capitalism Alive and Well in California?

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image1661658If there’s one thing that unites Californians, it’s a disdain for crony capitalism.

What is crony capitalism, you ask? We see it all the time. Think local elected officials throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Amazon to try and lure their second global headquarters to their city. PRI’s senior fellow in business and economics Wayne Winegarden has written about lawmakers offering generous electric car subsidies that would only really benefit Tesla.

Hard-working people are annoyed when government picks winners and losers in the economy through tax giveaways, set-asides, contracting preferences, or other favored treatment.

Did you know that it also costs California taxpayers significant sums, as well?

Matthew Mitchell and Tammy Winter at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University have just released an interesting new study called, “The Opportunity Cost of Corporate Welfare.”

They argue that neither evidence nor economy theory suggests that these incentives work. In fact, taxpayers in California are footing the bill for these giveaways to favored companies and industries.

Mitchell and Winter calculated what it would mean if California eliminated all the corporate subsidies in the state tax code.

They found that with the savings, California could:

  • Reduce the corporate income tax by 36 percent,
  • Reduce the state personal income tax by 6.2 percent,
  • Reduce the state sales tax by 5.8 percent, and
  • Reduce the state’s overall tax burden by 1.4 percent.

This echoes what Wayne Winegarden has written in the “Beyond the New Normal” series. There is an opportunity cost to government spending decisions. With the right economic policies in place, we can see sustained economic growth across all sectors of the economy.

Like Winegarden, Mitchell and Winter argue that state policymakers should focus on policies that enhance the economic freedom of all citizens.

With California currently ranking 49th in economic freedom on the Cato Institute’s annual rankings, sadly it’s highly unlikely that a pro-economic freedom agenda will be embraced by the majority party in Sacramento any time soon.

Tim Anaya is communications director for Pacific Research Institute, where this article was originally published. 

Report: Silicon Valley Giants Enjoy Billions in Government Subsidies

Silicon ValleyThe latest Subsidy Tracker reveals that some of the most prominent Silicon Valley tech corporations enjoy billions in government subsidies.

“Good Jobs First” is a not-for-profit organization that reviews state and municipal financial reports to track the size and justifications given by government entities to issue corporate tax abatements and direct subsidies that since 2015 have been required accounting disclosures under GASB Statement No. 77.

Most Americans are supportive of government providing defense, public safety, roads, schools, and public health. But the “Subsidy Tracker 2” reveals that governments are issuing record amounts of subsidies to the richest and powerful tech companies, many headquartered in Silicon Valley.

Supposedly entrepreneurial Silicon Valley has been America’s biggest winner in the corporate welfare game. Tesla has been by far the United States’ leader by collecting $2.4 billion in direct subsidies and over $1 billion in tax abatements since 2007. In addition, its SolarCity subsidiary picked up $1 billion in grants and tax abatements from the State of New York and another $497.5 million in U.S. Treasury Department cash grants.

Other Silicon Valley tech taxpayers miners include Google, the second-most valuable company in the galaxy with a market capitalization of $770 billion. It has enjoyed government largess of $766 million since 2000. Apple, the most valuable company in the universe with a market capitalization of $904 billion, banked $693 million in government handouts since 2011. And Facebook, the fifth most valuable company on the planet with a market capitalization of $558 billion, pocketed $549 million, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

But Silicon Valley is about to be displaced as America’s biggest corporate welfare hub by Seattle-based Amazon. According to the Subsidy Tracker, Amazon built its distribution and data centers network with up to $613 million in government grants and tax holidays.

Amazon is now holding the equivalent of a municipal subsidy auction for the right to host its $5 billion second North American corporate headquarters, HQ2.

In a bidding process that generated hundreds of proposals, Amazon named 20 municipal finalists in January. The subsidy packages for the nine locations that made public bids include 1) Raleigh, North Carolina with $50 million; 2) Denver, Colorado with $100 million; 3) Los Angeles, California with between $300 million to $1 billion; 4) Atlanta, Georgia with $1 billion; 5) Chicago, Illinois with at least $1.7 billion; 6) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with between $2 billion to $3 billion; 7) Columbus, Ohio with $2.3 billion; 8) Newark, New Jersey with $7 billion; and Montgomery County, Maryland with $8.5 billion in tax abatements and infrastructure incentives.

Mercatus Center at George Mason University warns that elected officials, even with the best of intentions, “do not possess the proper incentives to manage taxpayers’ money prudently” when it comes to passing out corporate taxpayer subsidies.

When private investors act in markets they experience price signals, but government decision makers have no way to account for the value or costs of their decisions. When private investors fail they lose money, but it is taxpayers that lose when government fails.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

California’s Transportation Future – The Hyperloop Option

In July 2012, Elon Musk sat down for a “fireside chat” with Sara Lacy, founder of the PandoDaily website. In between discussions of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, 43 minutes in, Musk unveiled his idea for the “Hyperloop,” a new transportation technology that “incorporates reduced-pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on air bearings driven by linear induction motors and air compressors.”

The concept wasn’t new. Hyperloop concepts have existed for nearly 200 years. Small scale “pneumatic railways” were actually built in Dublin, London, and Paris, mostly as a novelty, as far back as the 1850s. In 1910, American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard proposed a train that would go from Boston to New York in 12 minutes. Goddard’s design advanced the technology, replacing wheels with magnetic levitation of the passenger capsule inside a vacuum-sealed tunnel.

Musk’s “Hyperloop Alpha” study was released by a joint team from SpaceX and Tesla in August 2013. This 58 page study remains an excellent investigation of the financial and engineering feasibility of Hyperloop technology. The concept is relatively simple. Passengers and freight travel in “pods” or “capsules,” through a tube that has had all the air pumped out, eliminating the friction of air resistance. Moreover, these pods ride on electromagnets, repelled away from the inner surface of the tube, eliminating the friction of wheels. Not only would these electromagnets keep the pods levitated off the inside surfaces of the travel tube, but through “linear induction,” they would provide the force to propel the pod through the tube. Most proponents claim these innovations make speeds feasible in excess of 700 MPH.

A system like this, assuming there were nonstop service, could deliver passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in around 30 minutes. From the Hyperloop Alpha report, here is the route a Hyperloop system could take in California:

“Hyperloop Alpha” – The Original Proposed Route Connecting SF to LA

Hyperloop alpha

The Hyperloop Alpha study was released as an open source document, and none of the companies currently developing Hyperloop systems are directly affiliated with Musk or his companies. Since 2013, at least three noteworthy companies have emerged. Each of these companies have developed substantial technical changes to the design imagined in Musk’s Hyperloop Alpha study. And sadly, despite two of them being headquartered in California, none of these companies are currently proposing a system to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles.

THE MAJOR HYPERLOOP CONTENDERS

Virgin Hyperloop One, founded in 2014, is based in Los Angeles. They have over 300 employees and have raised over $295 million in investment capital. The company was rebranded in October 2017 after receiving a significant investment from Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. In May 2017 they began testing a Hyperloop system on a 500 meter “development loop” built in the desert north of Las Vegas. Regarding next steps for the company, a spokesperson for Virgin Hyperloop One claimed “we’ve already seen ground-breaking commitments in India, UAE, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.” He said construction of the Mumbai-Pune route in India could begin as early as 2022 and be completed in less than five years for passenger operations.

Virgin Hyperloop One’s 500 meter long “DevLoop” in the Nevada Desert

Virgin Hyperloop

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, or “HTT,” founded in late 2013, is based in Culver City in the Los Angeles area. They claim to have over 800 collaborators located all over the world who are working mostly in exchange for stock options.  While HTT uses crowd sourcing and is crowd funded, they have developed proprietary technology. An HTT spokesperson reached for comment said “The model is tricky to define. It isn’t open source, we call it ‘open collaboration.’ We don’t disclose our patents and schematics, we have signed contracts and non-disclosure agreements. But this way qualified candidates can be found worldwide and can contribute their talents in exchange for stock options.”

A Harvard Business School case study on HTT had this to say about the company’s prospects using this business model: “Rather than employees, HTT has invited over 800 people to contribute a minimum of 10 hours per week in exchange for future equity. Everything from recruitment, incentives, culture, technology, and intellectual property controls are handled with the idea that a community can work together to solve a global problem (transportation) by ‘turning a collective passion into a vision and the vision into a reality.’ The open question is how this approach will fair as the organization moves from design to delivery.”

Apparently so far HTT’s novel approach to financing and recruitment is working, because in April 2018 they announced construction of a kilometer-long test track near its R&D center in France near Toulouse. In addition to being headquartered in California with a test track underway in France, HTT has entered into government partnerships to perform feasibility studies and testing in Slovakia, India, as well as in the U.S. states of Ohio and Illinois. HTT also has impressive commercial technology partners including AECOMAnsys, and Oerlikon.

Hyperloop Transportation Technology’s full-scale tubes are transported to French test site 

Hyperloop

Another entrant in the Hyperloop industry is Transpod, founded in 2015, based in Toronto with satellite offices in Italy and France. In 2018 they announced plans to build a half-scale, 3 kilometer test track in France. Transpod president Sebastien Gendron, reached by phone, said construction would start this summer. He expected it to be ready for tests to begin within a year, or by Spring of 2019. He stated the decision to go at half-scale was based on a need to finalize the technology based on the results of the testing.

The designs Transpod are exploring are illustrative of the variations in the engineering solutions being developed at these three main competitors. Gendron explained that to reduce the cost per kilometer of tube, a major factor is the type of magnetic levitation. “We are developing technology to keep 80-90% of the levitation system on the vehicle itself,” he said. This would eliminate the need for expensive permanent magnets powered up for the entire length of the corridor. Like his counterparts at Virgin One Hyperloop and HTT, Gendron was reluctant to explain further details of their proprietary technology.

Hypothetical Hyperloop Station (artists rendering from Transpod)

Hypothetical Hyperloop

WILL HYPERLOOP WORK AND IS IT SAFE?

A rather caustic attempt to debunk Hyperloop technology was released in July 2016 by Phil Mason, a British scientist and videoblogger who has nearly 800,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel. His video, entitled “The Hyperloop Busted!,” has gotten over 1.5 million views, and takes a dim view of Hyperloop technology. Some of Mason’s criticisms are valid but obvious, and not deal killers. In particular, that Hyperloop systems will cost more than claimed by proponents, and that Hyperloop systems will use more energy than claimed by proponents. Mason is almost certainly correct in these criticisms, but they don’t necessarily kill the argument for Hyperloop transportation solutions. How much more will they cost? How much more energy will they consume? Other concerns merit more attention.

For example, Mason claims that current designs for lengthy Hyperloop routes don’t take into account thermal expansion of metal tubes that are literally hundreds of miles long. When reached for comment on this challenge, a Hyperloop One spokesperson said “We have successfully built a test track in the Nevada desert which is the perfect environment to test the impact of temperature changes upon the Hyperloop tube as temperatures range from over 100F to below freezing. The DevLoop tube experiences daily movement due to expansion and contraction of the steel during temperature swings. To accommodate this movement, we have designed proprietary structural systems into the DevLoop columns to allow for this movement which allows the tube to expand and contract without causing structural damage to the tube, vacuum, and other supporting mechanisms. As systems get longer, we are confident that we can build a flexible, strong, affordable, safe system that can endure a multitude of weather conditions given our testing experience in the harsh climate of the Nevada desert.”

Until systems get longer, it is difficult for Hyperloop proponents to muster convincing arguments that it will be absolutely safe. Depressurizing a tube several hundred miles long is a major engineering feat requiring a lot of energy, as is constructing a tube that long that is capable of structurally withstanding depressurization. There are many unanswered questions.

How will passenger pods exit the main Hyperloop route and switch onto sidings to board and disembark passengers at intermediate stops? How will pods airlock themselves to exit points at the station without letting air into the tube? Since these pods will be traveling at very high speeds, packing almost unimaginable kinetic energy, how certain can operators be that a pod might never bump into the inside of the tube? Wouldn’t a minor “bump,” at high speed in a narrow tube, result in a catastrophic collision, rupturing and depressurizing the tube and likely killing not only the passengers in the colliding pod, but all the passengers in all the pods transiting the tube as they encounter a wall of air?

THE TUNNELING OPTION

One of the strongest arguments for Hyperloop systems, should they function as planned, is that implementing them uses less space. Hyperloop systems can be put onto pylons, elevating the tubes so they don’t disrupt activities on the ground below them, whether that is farmland or the median of a divided highway or freeway. Hyperloop tubes can also be buried underground, enabling them to establish routes through densely populated cities.

It may be that the first use of Hyperloop technology will be within urban areas, where the space advantage they offer constitutes a more decisive argument for investing in a system than the maximum speeds they might achieve on longer routes. It may be the technology can be perfected at lower, safer speeds. Elon Musk, who is not directly involved with any of the companies vying to build the first Hyperloop systems, has founded The Boring Company, where he hopes to apply the same aggressive innovation to tunneling technology as he has applied to rocketry with SpaceX.

If SpaceX challenges NASA in the field of rocketry, The Boring Company faces a similarly entrenched competitor in the German firm Herrenknecht AG. Founded in 1975, its massive factory nestled along the Rhine, this multi-billion dollar company sells tunneling systems – sophisticated snakelike machines that can be over 1,000 feet long – all over the world. Herrenknecht TBMs (tunnel boring machines) dug the 35 mile long Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Swiss Alps in 2009, the longest and deepest tunnel in the world. Today, most of Herrenknecht’s TBMs are digging subways in urban areas, primarily in the Middle East and Asia. For more on Herrenknecht and tunneling technology today, read “The Long Dig” (New Yorker, 2008), or watch this fascinating animation of an operating TBM.

Tunneling, like blasting payloads into low earth orbit, is extremely expensive. But The Boring Company claims tunneling costs can be dramatically reduced. On The Boring Company’s FAQ page, the following innovations are proposed: (1) Triple the power output of the TBM’s cutting unit, (2) Continuously tunnel instead of alternating between boring and installing supporting walls, (3) Automate the TBM, eliminating most human operators, (4) Go electric, and (5) Engage in tunneling R&D, “the construction industry is one of the only sectors in our economy that has not improved its productivity in the last 50 years.”

Apparently tunneling, whether for Hyperloop pods, or just electric powered “skates,” has the attention of the Los Angeles City Council, which in April 2018 approved a CEQA exemption so The Tunneling Company can immediately begin digging a 14 foot diameter, 2.7 mile long tunnel through the heart of West LA. The Boring Company believes they will complete this tunnel in 9 months. Don’t laugh. SpaceX is now routinely reusing first stage rocket boosters, an achievement that eluded NASA for decades. And imagine how long it would take LA Metro to complete the same project.

According to The Tunneling Company, tunneling using conventional methods costs about $1.0 billion per mile. But the current standard for a one-lane tunnel is approximately 28 feet. By placing vehicles on a stabilized electric skate, the diameter can be reduced to less than 14 feet. The area of a 14 foot diameter circle is 615 square feet, whereas a 28 foot diameter circle has an area of 2,463 square feet, exactly four times as much. If Musk is correct that a 14 foot tunnel – which just happens to be the diameter of the tunnel he’s been approved to dig in Los Angeles – is a viable size for mass transit, he’s just brought costs down by 75%. If other proposed innovations are successful, The Boring Company may reduce tunnel costs from $1.0 billion per mile per lane to $100 million per mile per lane. As shown in this animation, electric “skates” can carry cars through these tunnels at speeds of 120 MPH, using elevators to move them down to the tunnel and back up to the roads.

THE FUTURE OF HYPERLOOP TECHNOLOGY

The pace of innovation clearly makes a case that California’s high speed rail project could end up being obsolete before it’s even completed, at staggering expense. But can the same be said for the Hyperloop? What are the emerging competitors to Hyperloop?

Within urban areas, where transportation challenges remain most acute, tunnels underground don’t have to move people at 700 MPH through zero PSI to constitute breakthrough improvement. They can use proven, much safer technology, such as electronic skates that transport cars through tunnels at normal air pressure. Traveling from the San Fernando Valley to downtown Los Angeles takes about 15 minutes if you’re going 120 MPH. You don’t need to go faster.

Between urban areas, there is a clear case for Hyperloop as a superior competitor to high speed rail. Assuming the safety issues and remaining technical challenges can be overcome, it is probably cheaper to construct, and it’s much faster. But these are big ifs. And even if Hyperloop can compete with high speed rail, that’s a low bar. What about conventional air travel? Can Hyperloop construct a network of zero PSI tunnels that connect every major city in California, the way, for example, Southwest Airlines does today?

And at what point does Hyperloop itself become obsolete, unable to cost-effectively compete with new innovations? When the energy density of batteries descends to under 400 watt-hours per kilogram (the best are currently already packing about 300 watt-hours per kilogram), high-speed electric planes become feasible. Because these planes would not have air-breathing jet engines, they could ascend to 60,000 feet where the thinner air offers less resistance, allowing them to travel at supersonic speeds using less energy. And because these planes could be designed like the V-12 Osprey, with rotating engine nacelles, they could take off and land vertically, eliminating the need for airport runways.

One big problem with Hyperloop, ultimately, is same problem with any rail transport. You can only go where the rails – or tubes – go. And only very specialized vehicles can go onto these rails, or into these tubes. Roads, on the other hand, can accommodate anything with wheels. The air, an even more versatile transportation medium, can accommodate anything that flies.

The next article in this series will examine advances in small scale transportation innovations. Advanced vehicles designed for roads and for flight. These new technologies will deliver passengers and freight at high speeds, with ranges that reach from the fringes to the center of large urban areas. It may be that embedded rail or tunnel technologies only make sense in the most densely packed urban cores, or along heavily traveled transportation corridors.

It makes sense to come up with high speed options to connect California’s North Central Valley to the Silicon Valley, or to connect California’s South Central Valley to the Los Angeles Basin. To connect the Silicon Valley to Los Angeles does not make sense for high speed rail, because it doesn’t go fast enough to compete with jets. Whether or not Hyperloop technology provides any of these solutions depends on whether it can indeed reduce the costs significantly below high speed rail, at the same time as it delivers safer, much faster transportation than high speed rail. It also depends on what other high-tech transportation solutions are on the way, using those most versatile of all transportation technologies, wheels and wings.

*   *   *

This article is the 2nd in a series on California’s transportation future. The first installment was “California’s Transportation Future, Part One – The Fatally Flawed Centerpiece,” published in April 2018. Edward Ring co-founded the California Policy Center in 2010 and served as its president through 2016. He is a prolific writer on the topics of political reform and sustainable economic development.

Democrats choose union over Tesla in California cap-and-trade deal

As reported by the Fresno Bee:

Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown are siding with organized labor in its battle with automaker Tesla, inserting a provision in last-minute legislation to spend $1.5 billion in cap-and-trade money.

The negotiated package largely spends funds on a variety of anti-pollution programs, such as those to retrofit and replace smog-belching big rigs and buses.

But the legislation, amended late Monday to be ready for votes before lawmakers adjourn for the year on Friday, also would inject the state into an increasingly acrimonious union organizing campaign at automaker Tesla’s Fremont plant. Beginning in July 2018, manufacturers that want to be eligible for state zero-emission vehicle rebates – a major driver of Tesla sales – would need to be certified by the state labor secretary “as fair and responsible in the treatment of their workers.”

Clean vehicle rebates have helped put more than 100,000 vehicles on the road. Tesla buyers are eligible for rebates of up to $2,500, but that perk could be imperiled by the legislation’s worker-treatment language. …

Click here to read the full article

Tesla: 1st Profit in Years, Thanks to California Climate Credits

telsa-elon-muskTesla Motors Inc. (TSLA: NASDAQ) reported this week that revenue nearly doubled in the latest quarter. The all-electric car company reported its first quarterly profit in over three years, thanks to cashing in $139 million of California tax credits that are meant to help combat climate change.

The company reported net income of $21.9 million, or 14 cents per share, for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, the first positive net earnings since the winter quarter of 2013. The profit came despite Wall Street analysts expecting a $0.56 loss. The profit compared to a loss of $229.9 million, or $1.78 per share, for the same quarter last year.

Total revenue more than doubled, to $2.3 billion, and the company’s capital spending came in dramatically below what analysts had expected as Tesla ramped up its infrastructure to begin producing its $35,000 mass-market Model 3 sedan.

Chief Executive Elon Musk stunned analysts on the company’s earnings call by commenting that despite moving from a production plan to produce 90,000 vehicles this year to 500,000 vehicles in 2018, the company’s current plan “does not require any capital raise for the Model 3 at all.”

Breitbart News reported in June that despite Tesla never meeting any of its unit production targets in the last five years, CEO Elon Musk told shareholders that through the magic of “physics-first-principles” he would revolutionize auto industry efficiency by “factors of 10 or even 100 times” to improve production profitability by 1,100 percent. Six weeks later, Tesla reported a nasty loss, and Musk was scorned by the financial press.

Tesla had planned capital spending of $2.25 billion this year. But with only $800 million spent in the first three quarters, Musk expects $1.8 billion in capital expenditure this year.

All this good operating news comes during a quarter when Tesla was hammered by the external environment. The company has been battered by reports of a growing number of injuries, and the death of a Model S driver using Autopilot, the company’s semi-autonomous driving system. Musk is also trying to have Tesla shareholders acquire debt-laden SolarCity (SCTY.O), which he and a number of family members control.

Consumer Reports on October 20 trashed Tesla vehicles in the magazine’s annual review. Although the all-electric Model S sedan earned the equivalent of 84 miles-to-the-gallon in energy consumption, and high marks for driving dynamics, the company was blasted by 1,400 mostly terrible responses from owners that took part in the magazine’s Annual Reliability Survey. The only established brands that Tesla beat were Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, and Ram.

Some analysts scoffed at Tesla for being profitable due to $139 million proceeds from sales of California zero emission vehicle tax credits. But rival automakers are buying the credits, and essentially taxing their own California customers to avoid selling electric cars.

Tesla stated that at September 30, the company had $3.08 billion in cash and equivalents, compared with $3.25 billion at the end of the second quarter. That was $250 million better than Breitbart News had expected the company to report.

Tesla’s shares initially spiked up by over 6.2 percent on the company’s profit release. But by mid-day trading on October 27, the stock had given back most of that gain.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Tesla Planning Aggressive California Expansion

teslaHigh-flying clean-energy industrialist Elon Musk has doubled down on his production plans in California. Tesla, his auto company, “took a major step toward its ambitious goal of one day building 1 million cars a year by seeking to double the size of its Fremont, Calif., assembly plant,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Under a long-term zoning proposal submitted to Fremont’s Planning Commission, the electric car maker wants to eventually add 4.6 million square feet of space to its factory’s existing 4.5 million square feet.”

Musk “told analysts this spring that the Palo Alto-based automaker hopes to ramp up annual production to 500,000 vehicles in 2018 and build 1 million vehicles by the end of 2020,” the paper added. “The 2018 goal alone is nearly a tenfold increase from the 50,580 vehicles that Tesla produced last year in Fremont. The automaker has forecast this year’s deliveries at 80,000 to 90,000. Quality problems and production delays plagued the plant early this year and threatened sales plans. But the company said last week that those problems are behind it and that it expects to come close to its forecast for 2016.”

Broad deals

Musk has not hesitated to link up with government resources and opportunities in order to advance his business interests. This month, he aligned SpaceX closely to take advantage of President Obama’s call to use private industry to help bring Americans to Mars. “Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station,” Obama announced. “One of those private companies tasked with ferrying astronauts to the ISS and who will essentially return human spaceflight to American soil in late 2018 is SpaceX,” the Observer noted.

And last month, Musk inked a deal to change the way California backstops its energy needs. “Tesla Motors Inc. will supply 20 megawatts (80 megawatt-hours) of energy storage to Southern California Edison as part of a wider effort to prevent blackouts by replacing fossil-fuel electricity generation with lithium-ion batteries,” Bloomberg reported. “Tesla’s contribution is enough to power about 2,500 homes for a full day, the company said in a blog post on Thursday. But the real significance of the deal is the speed with which lithium-ion battery packs are being deployed,” the site added — “months not years.”

Outracing critics

As Musk has accelerated his increasingly ambitious plans, however, he has attracted a greater share of criticism toward the mechanics of his business operations. “The pressure is now on Tesla for a smooth launch of the relatively affordable Model 3. A quality product pumped out at low cost and high volume is essential to meeting the ambitious goals of the company and its investors, auto analysts say, whereas long delays could threaten the company’s reputation — and survival,” according to the Times.

Meanwhile, wariness has centered separately around SolarCity, a startup run by family members. “The Tesla-SolarCity deal looks so bad on paper that many investors worry it’s simply a bailout of SolarCity, which Musk co-founded and continues to chair,” the MIT Technology Review noted. “While SolarCity dominates the market for leasing, installing, and maintaining solar panels for residences and businesses, it’s racked up more than $2 billion in losses over the past five years. “

“Its business model requires it to raise huge amounts of capital to cover the up-front costs of providing panels for no money down to consumers on multiyear contracts. Since its inception, the company has accumulated more than $3 billion in debt against just $1.5 billion in revenue. Now it is having a harder time convincing people to lend it money.”

What’s more, Musk has had to contend with a rebellion among his own shareholders. “As of earlier this week, seven Tesla stockholders have filed lawsuits against Elon Musk over the proposed acquisition of SolarCity and alleged Musk was in breach of his fiduciary duties for not disclosing the proposed merger properly. Some of these stockholders are asking the judge for an injunction to prevent the merger from going through,” Recode reported. But the two companies have announced the merger is going ahead anyway. “The companies have set the date for their respective shareholders to vote on the $2.6 billion all-stock transaction for Nov. 17.”

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Elon Musk May Have Even More Cash To Roll In Thanks To Solar Subsidies

Elon Musk has made millions from government solar panel subsidies, and may have found a way to make even more if rumors Tesla will soon introduce a whole-home battery are true.

Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and chairman of solar panel manufacturer SolarCity, set off a wave of anxious speculation Monday when he tweeted that “[a] major new Tesla product line—not a car” would be unveiled on April 30.

Neither Musk nor Tesla have confirmed any details about the new product, but according to The Motley Fool, many observers believe the new product will be a home battery capable of storing electricity produced by solar panels.

Musk told investors during a February conference call Tesla would begin production of a home battery within about six months, and further reinforced expectations with a second tweet, in which he said, “With all that solar power being generated, it almost feels like something is needed to complete the picture …”

Many experts, however, claim much of the reason for all that solar power being generated is that state and federal subsidies make rooftop solar panels affordable in the first place. (RELATED: Solar Industry Demands Extension of Subsidies)

In an op-ed for Townhall, for instance, Ken Blackwell asserts that, “Very few people would install these rooftop solar systems at all if not for the federal tax break that comes with it,” which takes the form of a 30 percent non-refundable tax credit known as the solar investment tax credit.

Even the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group, acknowledges as much on its website, noting that, “the residential and commercial solar ITC has helped annual solar installation grow by over 1,600 percent since the ITC was implemented in 2006.”

Another program that acts as an implicit subsidy for solar is net metering, which requires power companies to purchase excess solar from homeowners at the same price they charge their retail customers. Most states have their own net metering policies, and since 2005, federal law has required all public electric utilities to offer net metering to their solar customers on request.

Electric companies complain that net metering ignores the cost of operating and maintaining power grids, which they say accounts for about one-third of the price they charge for electricity. Because solar customers use the grid whenever they buy or sell power, the utilities argue net metering allows solar users to use the grid as a battery without contributing toward operating costs, forcing them to raise rates on other customers. (RELATED: Low-Income, Minority Households Bear Costs of Solar Subsidies)

According to a study from the University of Colorado at Boulder conducted by Chrystie Burr, “most of the investments in solar power systems wouldn’t have been made without the … upfront subsidy and the residential renewable energy tax credit.”

Similarly, a study by Kenneth Reddix II of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill concludes that in California, “over 54 percent of all purchases would have not occurred … in the absence of government subsidies.” (RELATED: Europe’s Green Energy Industry Faces Collapse as Subsidies are Cut)

If Tesla’s new product does turn out to be a home battery, as is widely expected, Musk will stand to profit twice from those subsidies—once from SolarCity’s sales of the subsidized panels, and then again from Tesla’s sale of home batteries to the same customers.

“Elon Musk is making a big play for American solar and all the subsidies that go along with it,” an energy industry consultant told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “If you’re getting millions from the federal government and a subsidized power grid, you might as well keep offering related products.”

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Tesla Challenges Dealership Laws in Various States — Including Texas and Arizona

California’s Tesla Motors Inc. is proving as revolutionary in selling cars as making them. It’s challenging states that mandate new cars be sold only through dealerships by pushing to offer its premium electric vehicles directly through company showrooms.

The two sides raced each other recently in a debate sponsored by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. The verbal drag-race pitted Ricardo Reyes, Tesla’s vice president of communications, against Bill Wolters, president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association.

Each side maintained the other was upholding a monopoly. Reyes insisted the Texas law, by preventing Tesla from selling cars directly, erected a monopoly consisting of state dealers. Wolters said the opposite was true: That Tesla, by cutting out the dealers and selling cars only by itself, was monopolizing the market.

Interstate Commerce Clause

At issue was the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress alone the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” It established a vast free-trade zone among the 50 states, a keystone of American prosperity.

The debate was reported in the Texas Tribune.

“How does a manufacturer of a product that owns every retail outlet benefit a consumer or the state of Texas?” Wolters asked.

Reyes responded, “All we’re asking to do is be allowed, unfettered, to compete.”

According to the Tribune, Reyes called his company the “underdog.”

Reyes insisted that Tesla just wants to sell directly to its customers. Currently, Tesla sells no cars in Texas, but in 2015 plans to sell 55,000 nationally and abroad, Fortune reported yesterday. That’s a fraction of total expected U.S. vehicle sales of more than 17 million, according to Automotive News.

Also yesterday, Reuters reported on the company’s financial problems, “Tesla Motors Inc missed fourth-quarter sales targets and analysts’ profit expectations, but Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk on Wednesday said by 2025 Tesla’s growth trajectory could take its market value to $700 billion, matching that of Apple Inc.

“It was a glimmer of optimism capping a difficult quarter that saw the electric-car company struggle with production and delivery issues on several fronts, notably in China.”

Although perhaps utopian, it’s that promise of Apple-like success that concerns dealers in Texas and elsewhere. Musk did not attend the debate.

Wolters addressed the replacement threat directly at the debate. “If we didn’t have franchise laws, the manufacturers, as they should, would focus on their shareholders and only have dealerships in the most profitable, highly populated areas of our state,” he said. “Do we want to jeopardize two-thirds of the dealerships in our state?”

Reyes said, “It is odd to me that the only thing consumers can’t buy direct is booze and cars in this state. Imagine the Girl Scouts having to sell through a distributor network. Imagine Apple having to sell through a distributor network.”

Prohibition

The alcohol example is interesting because it involves a quirk in the Constitution. Alcohol Prohibition, “the Noble Experiment” from 1920-32, was imposed with the 18th Amendment, which banned manufacturing or importing alcohol except for medicinal or religious purposes.

It was enforced through the Volstead Act and other federal laws.

However, when Prohibition was repealed, the 21st Amendment allowed the states to carve out their own distribution laws for alcohol. It reads, “The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.”

Note the clause, “in violation of the laws thereof” — meaning state laws.

That’s why California has very liberal alcohol laws. But in Pennsylvania, as Forbes recently reported, “If you want to buy beer, you have to go to a beer store or distributor. If you want to buy spirits, you have to go to a state-run liquor store.”

But there’s no 21st amendment for anything besides alcohol.

Foie gras

Ironically, California itself is challenging the Interstate Commerce Clause in its controversy over foie gras, insisting that a state ban on the culinary delicacy’s production and use includes banning importing it from other states and countries.

State restaurants have retorted that, although the state can ban specially fattening a goose — the way it’s made — it can’t ban importing foie gras.

As CalWatchDog.com reported, Attorney General Kamala Harris is appealing a January ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Watson that federal law preempts state law on importing foie gras.

Arizona

Texas’ action also is somewhat ironic, given its boast of having fewer regulations and a more pro-business environment than California.

Tesla is faring batter in the Grand Canyon State. Reported the Arizona Republic:

“House Bill 2216 would effectively upend the decades-old system that prohibits manufacturers from competing with dealerships through direct sales. Tesla is pushing a bill similar to one that failed a year ago in hopes that a new governor and Legislature are more open to what it sees as free-market principles.

“Standing in the way are the state’s car dealers, a group that directly employs about 24,000 Arizonans and accounts for $2 billion in sales taxes, a crucial element of the state’s revenue. They see Tesla as seeking an exception that would allow it to establish monopoly powers that threaten the state’s broader economy.”

But Tesla owners, by definition an upscale group able to purchase a $101,500 car, may have the last say. Mark Rohde told the Republic, “As a consumer, I don’t need a dealer to take care of me. I don’t need a middle man. If you believe in free-market economies, then you better get behind free-market economies.”

Originally Published on CalWatchdog.com

The Tesla Effect

Call it the Tesla Effect.

Good news — so far — for California’s successful electric-vehicle maker and others in the industry. At least through last November, the low gasoline prices of recent months have not crashed electric vehicle sales.

Plug In America, which follows EV sales, charted both sales and the price of gas for recent years. “Gasoline prices have fluctuated almost a dollar during this period,” it found. “Very recently, they’ve dipped to new lows. But on average, the trend has been flat, because all the ups and downs cancel each other out.”

The chart on their site shows national gas prices jumping up and down from 2011 through Nov. 2014, from lows of around $3 a gallon to highs of nearly $4. California prices have been about 10 percent to 15 percent higher than national prices.

“The current generation of plug-in vehicles started selling in December 2010,” Plug In America also reported. “As a product category, PEVs [plug-in electric vehicles] are still in their infancy. Sales have risen year after year. The trend is rising.”

EV sales

The chart on that site shows sales of EVs steadily rising from close to zero at the beginning of 2011 to about 10,000 a month at the end of 2014. Here’s a similar chart:

US electric car sales

However, a caution light comes from Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation. “We are now seeing gas prices far below the data for 2013 and 2014, so all bets are off in terms of the impact on hybrid and EV sales impact,” he told CalWatchdog.com.

“The auto industry is already seeing a large increase in pickup truck and SUV sales, which is widely attributed to the impact of lower gas prices,” he said. “I would be very surprised if there were not a comparable impact, in the other direction, on sales of hybrids and EVs.”

Long-term data to come out in future months will tell the story.

But USA Today reported this week:

“Sales of new cars and trucks roared off to a fast start in January, towed by Americans’ renewed love affair with trucks and SUVs as low fuel prices mean the gas-thirsty models aren’t so expensive to fill up.

“Trucks — a category that consists of pickups, vans and SUVs — were 54% of January sales; cars were the remainder, according to sales tracker Autodata.”

One detail can be noted, for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Its Chrysler division went bankrupt during the Great Recession, was bailed out by the federal government, then merged with Fiat. The picture now:

“Jeep, again, was the star, posting its best-ever monthly sales and recording a 44% increase by the compact Jeep Cherokee SUV.

“Patriot, smaller than Cherokee and on the market since the 2007 model, found new buyers somewhere, and recorded a 35.6% gain.

“Ram pickup was up 14%.

“Chrysler has become largely a truck and SUV company — 72.5% of its sales — while its cars are an almost incidental 27.5%.

“Even against the industry-wide strong, new interest in trucks and SUVs, FCA US results are dramatic.”

The future

These numbers likely only would hold so long as gas prices remain low. If the history of fluctuations once more arcs upward, then gas-powered vehicles again could come into disfavor.

The San Jose Mercury News reported today:

“Those amazingly low gas prices that soothed motorists for the past few months will soon be in the rearview mirror: Pump prices have jumped a dime or more in the past week and are expected to soar another 30 to 50 cents a gallon by April. 

“That would have California drivers paying around $3 a gallon, a far cry from today’s $2.53 statewide average mark but still well below the $3.60 price a year ago.”

California’s situation is unique because of special state fuel requirements, including the conversion, going on now, to more expensive summer fuel. And the state is working out how much the new tax for the cap-and-trade program will cost.

But gas prices are rising across the country. “[T]he most pain is being felt now in the upper Midwest, where the statewide average in Michigan soared from $2.09 on Tuesday to $2.23 on Wednesday,” the Mercury News reported. “Bay City, Michigan, led all metropolitan areas in the nation with a 29-cent overnight hike.”

On the other hand, Citigroup economists expect the oil price decline to continue, or at least not to rise.

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

What incumbent candidates conveniently leave out of campaign ads

Humorist Will Rogers observed, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” If Rogers were a Californian today, he would say the same thing about the state Legislature.

Fortunately, for average citizens, the Legislature adjourned a few weeks ago so its ability to inflict more harm on taxpayers, property owners and businesses is on hold until the first of the year.

Lawmakers are no longer in Sacramento listening to high-powered lobbyists for special interests that back more taxes and spending. Most have returned to their home districts to beg for votes. They are likely to be attending local events and some will actually be walking in neighborhoods to convince voters they deserve to be returned to the Capitol. And, of course, they will be invading your mail box, television and radio with their political ads.

The majority of candidates for reelection will be bragging that they and their colleagues have achieved a balanced, on time budget and the state is on the right track. Their accomplishments, they will claim, entitle them to continue in office.

However, here are some things that most will not mention. California continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates in all 50 states. Our state ranks first in marginal income tax rates, state sales tax and gasoline tax. Businesses, and the jobs they provide, continue to flee the state. Even firms like Tesla and SpaceX that have been provided massive tax subsidies by Sacramento, have chosen to expand their facilities outside of California – Tesla to Nevada and SpaceX to Texas. And the Legislature continues to support subsidies to Governor Brown’s bullet train that may end up costing taxpayers nearly $100 billion.

Another topic that most incumbent lawmakers will not want to discuss is their efforts to pass ACA 8, an amendment to the California Constitution that would make it much easier to increase property taxes to pay for infrastructure bonds. Passage of this, and other proposals that fell just short of approval this year, could have resulted in increased property taxes totaling billions of dollars, once again putting homeownership in jeopardy as it was prior to Proposition 13, when there were no limits on annual increases in the tax bill.

It is also unlikely they will want to discuss their rejection of legislation that would have slowed the implementation of carbon fees, fees that are likely to add somewhere between 15 and 40 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas after the first of the year. This is no less than a war on the poor, who already can barely afford to put fuel in their cars due not only to high prices, but also to the highest gas tax in the nation. And California has plenty of poor. We lead all 50 states in the percentage of those living in poverty.

Voters who have the opportunity to meet candidates for office, whether they are incumbents or aspiring challengers, should be prepared to ask a few questions.

Here is a good question for all candidates, “Do you believe it is fair that Californians pay the highest tax rates in nearly every category?” An excellent follow-up question would be, “Where do you stand on an extension of the Proposition 30 income and sales tax increase, set to expire in the next several years?” And, of course it is always revealing to get answers to this question, “Do you support the governor’s bullet train that could cost taxpayers a hundreds billion dollars or more?”

Honest answers to these questions would provide a good gauge of how well a candidate understands that their actions have real consequences for average Californians. Some may show that they genuinely respect those they serve, while others, who are likely to equivocate when responding, will reveal that they are motivated by self-interest.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.