Tesla “Gigafactory” In Stockton Should Prompt A California High Speed Rail Route Change

Western states like California are falling all over themselves to secure Tesla’s proposed “gigafactory” to mass-produce lithium ion batteries.  This cheap energy storage will be a game changer for making electric vehicles affordable and decarbonizing our electricity supply by balancing intermittent renewables from the sun and wind.  But for state leaders, the factory means great middle class jobs in an expanding clean-tech industry.

Texas seemed to have the lead, but California is pulling out all the stops, including waiving key environmental laws like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Now it appears that if the factory happens in California, it may be in Stockton, according to the Los Angeles Times.  Stockton is just an hour outside of the Bay Area in the Central Valley, with many people commuting into the Bay Area there from cheaper middle-class sprawl developments.  Plus it has access to waterways, freeways, and the Tesla vehicle factory.

But if the factory does happen in Stockton, it should also have access to high speed rail.  A decision to locate the gigafactory there should prompt the California High Speed Rail Authority to reconsider its proposed route to the Bay Area from the south via Pacheco Pass and pristine, rural San Benito County.  That route is not my favorite — it cuts off major population centers, including Stockton and Modesto, and puts a beautiful, undeveloped part of the state at risk of rail-induced sprawl.  It does serve San Jose more directly, but the city could still be served by a spur from an Altamont route.  Here’s the current proposed route:

OB-QL002_FASTRA_G_20111104231557And here’s the alternative Altamont Pass route that would provide access to Stockton and the possible factory (source is the advocacy group Transdef):

followthelightsThe Authority just won a CEQA case on appeal upholding environmental review on the Pacheco alignment.  But maybe the prospect of the gigafactory, combined with the other benefits of routing the system along Altamont, will prompt long-overdue reconsideration.


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