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Billionaire Elon Musk, one of the top one percent in the world in terms of income and wealth, is among the largest recipients of government largesse. He gets millions of dollars in subsidies, tax breaks and tax credits for his electric car company, Tesla motors – which produces a car only his peers, the wealthy, can afford.
It turns out, however, Tesla is not his only company sucking up tax payer’s hard earned dollars. In a six part expose, journalist Tori Richards, examines the dodgy dealings, questionable business practices, and secretive government backing or Musk’s company, Solar City.
Solar City’s pitch, allow us to install solar panels on your home, for a small front fee and a 20 year contract for electricity at a fixed price. The promise, your electric bills will fall. However, all too often, those signing up see their electric bills rise.
Worse, as the series shows, Solar City’s promises of cheap, clean energy, all too often turn into a nightmare as the installations damage the homes or other electrical systems in the homes, complaints, when they are responded too at all, take months receive a response and even more time to the necessary fix – with the fixes often causing further problems – and with homeowners finding themselves fight liens against their home when disputes over payments arise.
At the same time, Solar City has reaped more than $11 million in stimulus funding and $422 million in tax kickbacks from the federal government for the solar power produced (these figures don’t include state subsidies). Speaking of state subsidies, Solar City is soaking New York taxpayers for $750 million for the promised construction of a manufacturing plant. Since the public is footing the bill, one would think the terms of the contract, promises made, etc… would be open to public perusal and review – one would be wrong. When a local television station tried to examine the contract’s details, rather than being transparent and open for review, the station was informed the contract terms were confidential. Forcing the issue using a Freedom of Information Act request, the station finally go the contract, only to find most of the pages were blacked out and the term redacted.
Richards’ series is a real eye-opener, and she has done the public a great service in exposing federal and state governments’ malfeasance, Musk’s undue influence and the extent to which he has his hands in the public’s pocket, the regularity with which solar power promises are not met and the potential dangers facing people buying into Solar City’s promises of clean, cheap, energy.