California is back in Tesla's gigafactory game

Since February, speculation on where Tesla Motors will build its “gigafactory” has centered on the four Southwestern states that Tesla named as finalists for the massive battery plant: Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. (My bet: Nevada)

Now California is apparently back in the game – though the chances of actually winning the big economic development sweepstakes seem slim.

CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that Gov. Jerry Brown and his staff are working hard to make California a “significant candidate” for the gigafactory, but that Tesla needs to move fast on permits and construction. Tesla wants to break ground on the gigafactory next month, and speed is not exactly California’s forte.

“I don’t think we did a good a job of explaining why California wasn’t on the list of four states to begin with and it’s just because this is a large Greenfield construction project,” said Musk during a conference call with analysts to discuss the company’s Q1 earnings. “California has quite a complex and lengthy process for approval of Greenfield sights. So what we couldn’t afford was waiting like a year or more for kind of to proceed, which would I think also make sure no environmental impact of any significance, but it would just take a long time for the California Regulatory Agencies to process information that they would need to for their obligations on the California Law. Whereas in other states it’s much more streamlined approach.”

Tesla can’t get stuck in a situation where workers in Fremont are ready to make cars but the battery packs aren’t ready.

“The Governor and Legislature are going to try to do something about that, but I think the question of timing is still a big one, and then we also need to make sure that the ongoing operational costs of the Gigafactory are not significantly worse than other states,” said Musk. “So I think like I said, I think California’s still in the sort of improbable, but not of being impossible category at this point.”

It’s not clear what California can offer Tesla, though Governor Brown has taken steps to reform CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The administration is working every day to bring companies to California and help them grow here,” said a spokesperson from GO-Biz, or the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. “Tesla is certainly one of those companies.”

Tesla also said that it has a “letter of intent” signed with Panasonic and that a “joint working team” between Panasonic and Tesla is that is collaborating on a regular basis.

A California Custom Postcard from Legends’ General Store.




Dana Hull Dana Hull (252 Posts)

Dana Hull covers clean technology and energy policy for the San Jose Mercury News. She often writes about electric vehicles, the smart grid, the solar industry and California energy policy, from RPS goals to Gov. Jerry Brown's big dreams for distributed generation.