Tesla’s Rocket Problem, & What Would You YIMBY?

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The Best of Times, The Worst of Times. Model 3 panel gap from drivetribe.

Tesla’s Rocket Problem

Tesla’s rocket problem is that Elon Musk’s companies are simply great with challenging stuff, but challenged greatly by simple stuff. Well, that may be a bit too cliche — his companies are also good at simple stuff — but the little details can often jam up otherwise world-changing plans.

Making a million cars requires an absolutely different skill set than launching a rocket. Elon Musk has proven he can launch — and land! — rockets, but with the Model 3, he’s proven for the fourth time that he doesn’t “get” manufacturing. Talking about surpassing Toyota is only credible if you’re already close to Toyota’s manufacturing prowess. Tesla is so far behind the rest of the auto industry in executing auto production that his comments … well, they backfire with some of us because he comes across as less credible.

As mentioned in the podcast, landing those rockets will be on the highlight reel of the 21st century. So after that, missing Mars orbit with the Roadster is like missing a penalty kick after you’ve scored from midfield with a wicked, twisting “banana kick.” NASA got to Neptune with the Voyager 2 spacecraft, which was launched back when Microsoft was still located in Albuquerque!

Friday Night Lowlights

Even though it took place on Wednesday, Tesla’s Q4 call had a pair of “Friday news dumps,” the significance of which is that these were issues the management didn’t want to talk about.

The departure of Jon McNeill, head of sales and service, was announced as a “by the way” sort of thing when the conference call was almost over. Which strongly suggests it was something Elon and team didn’t want to have to answer questions about. Otherwise, why not get it out of the way at the start?

The even bigger issue — which affected our own Zachary and Kyle, and no doubt many readers — is that after the conference call finished, Tesla alerted Model 3 reservation holders that there’d be another delay for the standard model. They knew they were going to do this, and deliberately didn’t mention it on the call. That looks really bad, and I’m sure some of the selling in the past few days was because of this.

Like, if you lose money in bitcoin and tell your spouse, that’s one thing. You’re feeling comfortable and confident enough to face the music. If you lose money in bitcoin and don’t tell your spouse, that’s a lot worse — your losses are bad enough or embarrassing enough that you don’t want to deal with the consequences, and are hoping you can offer better news later. (In the Tesla context, at the next quarterly call.)

Every business has things go fubar once in a while, and that’s to be expected. It’s not necessarily anything to worry about. But ducking bad news … that’s more concerning.

Tesla’s Q4 investor letter is here, and the transcript of the Q4 call is here.

What Would You YIMBY?

The David Roberts story in Vox that inspired this segment is here. Basically, if we want to bring emissions way down, we all have to make sacrifices when it comes to saying “yes” to things in our backyard.

It’s hard for me to understand why the Sierra Club of Massachusetts would oppose both a zero-emission nuclear power plant and a transmission line to bring more zero-emission hydroelectricity to the state. But for us to criticize them without being willing to suffer some direct impacts in our neighbourhoods is unfair.

I’d love to hear from listeners what they would YIMBY — what they’d say “yes in my backyard” to. Nearby nuclear power plant? High-voltage DC transmission lines through a scenic mountain pass or national park to transmit more wind energy? Let us know here in the comments, and on Twitter at @ElectronComm and @ElectricExaminr!

I explained that I’m willing to overpay for a probably-dumb dam here in British Columbia, because in the long run, that can help displace more fossil power. And even if we don’t need the electricity in the province for a few years, if we want to electrify everything, we’ll probably need that dam and all the wind and solar we can build out. I’m happy to densify neighborhoods in cities, even if it means giving up my dream of having a house or even a townhouse with a yard.

And for the main event — I’m very conflicted about the pipeline expansion that Kinder Morgan wants to build through the Vancouver area. It was easy to say no the project when Alberta was ruled by climate change denying social conservatives who thought they could bully their way into getting what they wanted. But now, Alberta has a social democrat government (the NDP, who are on the “Bernie Sanders” part of the political spectrum). They put in a carbon tax, are phasing out coal, are building renewables, put an absolute cap on oil sands emissions (generous though it is), and were even okay with the Canadian government cancelling the Northern Gateway pipeline. They’ve done more than I could have hoped, to try to get this one concession. They’ve played nice.

If British Columbia says no, we’ll probably go back to a climate change denying, coal-propping conservative government, which will make it a lot more difficult for Canada to make any federal progress on the climate file. If we say yes, then more oil sands get pumped from Alberta (if we’re all going to drive EVs anyway, would that matter?), but maybe we can get more aggressive emissions reductions agreed to throughout the country.

If there’s a pipeline going through Vancouver, that will be monitored every minute of every day by environmental NGOs’ drones. Any pipeline spill will get immediate attention, and will get fixed promptly. And maybe their vigilance and soft demand will cause Kinder Morgan to give up on the pipeline after a few years. If it was in the middle of nowhere like Northern Gateway, it’d be out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Nothing would cause Vancouverites to shift to EVs en masse like an oil spill … but then of course, you have to be able to recover from an oil spill when there’s an oil spill.

Short story is, I’m really conflicted about this pipeline. I’m tempted to be a NIMBY, but I’ve got enough life experience to know that it’s important to avoid blowback, and I want to keep climate change deniers out of power in Alberta. Tricky, eh?

So, how is it for you guys? Any examples of things you’d be willing to say YIMBY to, or perhaps even some red lines in the sand where you’ll always be a NIMBY? Let us know in the comments below, and on the Twitter!

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Matthew Klippenstein

Matthew Klippenstein is a renewable energy consultant in Vancouver, Canada. He has chronicled the Canadian electric car market for GreenCarReports.com since 2013, and has provided commentary (in English and French) for print, television, radio, web and podcast media. An early guest on "The Energy Transition Show", his work has also been discussed on "The Energy Gang".

Matthew Klippenstein has 37 posts and counting. See all posts by Matthew Klippenstein