California Could Give Tesla “Gigagactory” a Pass on Environmental Review

Tesla’s proposed “gigafactory” to mass produce cheap lithium ion batteries could be a climate game-changer. The batteries would be an environmental twofer: first, we’d get cheap electric vehicles to dramatically reduce transportation emissions (via a half-priced Tesla), and two, we’d get cheap energy storage units that could be used for everything from home and business backup or offgrid power to utility-scale storage of renewable power, which could be dispatched when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. It’s the missing piece to achieve the worldwide reductions in greenhouse gases needed by 2050, which require electrifying transportation and simultaneously decarbonizing our electricity supply.

It also means a lot of jobs for whatever state gets the factor. California was considered out of the running, but state leaders have been lobbying Tesla CEO Elon Musk big-time. And now we can see some of that wining-and-dining in legislative action. SB 1309 (Steinberg & Gaines) provides a legislative commitment to reduce regulatory barriers to siting the factory, including environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Big project streamlining like this has happened before, most notably for large sports facilities like the Sacramento Kings arena and an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles. But this would be the first time that a facility with such huge environmental benefits would get an environmental review exemption (or streamlining, depending on how the bill gets worded). If it comes to pass, it will likely pit traditional environmentalists against climate hawks. But first we’ll have to see what Musk decides to do with the facility. Stay tuned!


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