In the movie Elysium, the wealthy and privileged flee Earth to inhabit a Larry Niven-like artificial ringworld, leaving the rest of humanity behind on a destitute planet. The future, if left to Elon Musk, bears an eerie resemblance to Elysium.
Musk, the chief executive officer (CEO) and chief technology officer (CTO) of SpaceX, the CEO of Tesla Motors, and chairman of the board of SolarCity, doesn’t care about the poor or middle-class and his business models prove it. The technology-centric crowd fawns over Musk like he is the second coming of Steve Jobs. He is a creative problem solver who looks to the future. However, his products serve only the wealthy and elite.
Government support through taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies of a billionaire’s business models is a form of fascism, blind to your labels of liberal and conservative.
There was a recent article in Quartz,”Why Elon Musk is a Utility Executive’s Worst Nightmare” fawning over SolarCity for upending the traditional power companies. Here is what they are all missing. Only homeowners can lease those solar panels that SolarCity installs. How many low, and even middle-income people are homeowners in California? The same California, and particularly Santa Cruz, which is one of the most expensive states and metro areas in the country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Santa Cruz’s homeownership rate is 59.4 percent and California overall is 56.7 percent compared to the national average of 66.1 percent.
Traditional power companies, like Pacific Gas & Electric, still maintain the power lines, transformers, substations and equipment for connecting those houses to the grid, yet SolarCity bears none of those costs. So, the lower- to middle-income renter subsidizes SolarCity and their customers through higher rates on electricity. Ratepayers in California have spent $1.68 billion on these subsidies to the benefit of SolarCity, competitors of SolarCity, their customers, and other industry players.
How many coal, natural gas, or oil power plants have been removed? Zero. Not one of those polluting plants has been decommissioned in California. One nuclear plant, San Onofre, is being taken off-line and not as a result of solar installations, but because of actual problems at the plant. The result of San Onofre’s discontinuance of contributing power to the grid is concern about rolling blackouts.
Is that fair, equitable, or just?
Don’t forget that those solar panels, constructed in the name of clean energy, are manufactured in heavily polluting China. They are then transported across the ocean in bunker fuel-burning super freighters that produce massive amounts of pollution, and installed only to have high failure rates since the Chinese stole the solar panel manufacturing industry. When the sun isn’t shining, do you turn off your lights, refrigerator, television, and computer? So much for SolarCity providing an environmental benefit, since the coal, oil, gas, and nuclear plants are still required as base-load power sources on the grid.
It makes sense that Mr. Musk is heavily involved in a solar power company since his automobile company, Tesla Motors, makes electric vehicles. Electric vehicles that must plug into that electric grid for charging the lithium-ion batteries used to power the car. Tesla only makes vehicles for the top 5 percent earners in the United States. The base Model S starts at $62,500, which includes a taxpayer funded $7,500 incentive. Who pays those taxes again? We all do, including lower- and middle-income families. Now we subsidize both the power and the purchase of the vehicle using that power, all for the upper middle-class and above.
This is all starting to look like a regressive series of tax incentives benefiting the advantaged few on the backs of the many, isn’t it?
Tesla also builds a very large lithium-ion battery for use in their vehicles. This size battery is highly energy intensive to manufacture, resulting in a very long lifespan necessary to return the energy invested. Furthermore, lithium-ion batteries contain toxic and hazardous materials that lack a robust recovery, recycling and reuse industry.
Oh, but Elon Musk is a tremendous philanthropist, many might argue. It is true that he has signed on to The Giving Pledge, meaning he will give most of his wealth away before he dies. In the meantime, we have homeless, hungry and sick people that need help. His companies consume tax dollars from budgets, and his philanthropy today is limited to grid-connected solar panel systems. Musk is also founder and chairman of the Musk Foundation, which is mainly focused on solar and space.
Why do we continue spending taxpayer and ratepayer money to support billionaires, even the darlings of tech?
Ethan Bearman is a writer and talk show host of the nationally syndicated “Ethan Bearman Show” on GCN, KSCO Presents, Tech Talk with Ethan Bearman on KBYR. Visit ethanbearman.com.
written by Marcelo Pacheco, January 10, 2015
written by Xanthippe, December 23, 2013