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VC Steve Westly on the election, the California exodus, and betting on electrification – TechCrunch


A former controller and CFO of the state of California, Steve Westly is enthusiastic about authorities. The onetime eBay exec and early Tesla board member has additionally been a proponent of fresh vitality for roughly 30 years, so he’s feeling optimistic proper now, with former U.S. VP Joe Biden amassing a rising variety of electoral votes and widening his main Donald Trump as he inches towards an election win.

We talked earlier right now with Westly, who based the enterprise agency The Westly Group 13 years in the past and which is presently elevating as much as $250 million for a fourth fund, based on SEC paperwork filed earlier this week. We wished to know whether or not he thinks Biden will have the ability to obtain any a part of his local weather plan within the doubtless state of affairs that Republicans proceed to regulate the Senate. We additionally questioned what he makes of VCs leaving California, and the place he sees probably the most alternatives proper now. We kicked off our dialog with the information of the day. Our chat has been edited calmly for size.

TC: As we speak, Joe Biden appears to be on the cusp of successful the U.S. presidential election whereas Donald Trump continues to tweet about taking his claims a few rigged election to the Supreme Court docket. Are you involved about that rhetoric, on condition that Republicans don’t appear to be pushing again towards it?

SW: You need to be fearful about such issues, however I believe most individuals are wanting on the large image. This isn’t going to be a 270 to 268 [electoral college] vote. Biden may get 290 to 306 [electoral votes]. It’s a decisive distinction. He additionally acquired greater than 4 million extra [popular] votes than Trump. The individuals have spoken, they usually’ve spoken loudly.

There are guidelines in most states that say for those who aren’t inside a p.c or half a p.c — i believe [Biden has a] 1.6% [advantage] in Nevada and 1.4% [lead in] Arizona proper now — there gained’t be a recount. I believe his lead in Pennsylvania will rise to 100,000, so the window [for a Trump win] is diminishing fairly shortly.

I’m additionally seeing extra Republican officers, like Senator Bob Toomey of Pennsylvania, saying that we rely the votes, we observe the foundations, what the president is doing is irresponsible, and it’s time to maneuver on.

TC: You’re elevating a fund that you simply’ve already advised me you gained’t discuss, citing SEC guidelines, however I’m questioning: has Westly Group’s mandate has modified over time? I keep in mind when the agency was first shaped that it was one of many solely pure ‘cleantech’ enterprise corporations, but it surely looks as if it has broadened out a bit.

SW: Sustainable vitality has turn out to be the brand new scorching factor and it makes me chortle as a result of I’ve been concerned in vitality for 30 years [including in government roles]. I wrote two books on the way forward for vitality within the ‘80s, so I’ve been at this a bit.

Our thesis continues to be that there are revolutions occurring in good vitality, mobility and good buildings, and they’re being pushed by renewable vitality, which prices lower than carbon-based fuels in nearly each a part of the world right now, from the U.S. to India to Africa. That’s not a political assertion; it’s a reality.

Absolutely 70% of latest vitality coming on-line now’s sustainable, so individuals are good to concentrate to that. As a result of prices are taking place and the price of storage goes down precipitously — the price of lithium ion batteries got here down a lot that we reached an inflection level in 2018, and the price of a kilowatt per hour prices less than $150 now  — all people goes electrical.

Carmakers haven’t wished to say this publicly as a result of it freaks out shareholders, however we’re headed towards a world the place the vast majority of vitality might be sustainable within the close to future and many of the automobiles might be electrical and that may occur loads sooner than individuals suppose.

Buildings play a key function, too, as a result of they’ve traditionally been dumb; now they’re digitized buildings with energy storage, and shortly each dwelling, constructing, hospital, and college [will run off digitized energy] and also you‘ll see arbitrage taking place constantly between buildings, houses, and automobiles, the place individuals gained’t pay a penny for electrical energy or gasoline each once more. A decade in the past after I mentioned this, individuals thought I used to be nuts, however now California requires that every one newly constructed houses will need to have photo voltaic panels.

TC: With issues transferring extra shortly in that path, what does all this misplaced income imply for PG&E, the corporate that powers most of Northern California and whose infrastructure is already crumbling and inflicting wildfires?

They need to observe the lead of good utilities like Duke [a Westly Group investor] and European firms which are transferring past conventional income streams to new income streams. Each utility right now has a menu, and if yours solely options electrical energy ions and fuel molecules, that’s not a very good menu. It’s like saying we have now soup and meat, interval. These firms ought to have a particular menu for residential prospects and a special menu for industrial and industrial prospects and they need to be eager about putting in energy partitions and placing photo voltaic on roofs; they need to be considering long-term contracts, like even financing electrical automobiles.

TC: PG&E is in a foul spot, however California could also be, too, as lots of people depart the Bay Space, citing taxes, amongst different causes. Are you fearful a few broader motion out of the state and what it may imply?

SW: That is the massive query of the following 10 years. California is about to face a wall of debt. We’ve gone from a surplus to what may very well be a $40 billion deficit in a really brief interval [because of COVID-19].

This yr might be coated just a little as a result of there’s nonetheless an energetic IPO market [as capital gains are taxed the same as income, making the state heavily dependent on the stock market]. However there are 12.6 million People out of labor, and a disproportionate variety of them are in California, so doubtless a Democrat-controlled legislature will attempt to begin to go a sequence of taxes.

Prop 15 [which would have taxed properties based on their current market value rather than purchase price and would have increased property taxes on commercial properties] failed, so this might be an ongoing problem. Nonetheless, if we proceed to boost taxes, we run the chance of shedding entrepreneurs to different states. I do know firsthand many associates who’ve moved to Austin. We have to have a balanced method to managing out bills with out pushing individuals off to different states.

TC: Any brilliant concepts on that entrance?

SW: I used to be the CFO of California, and your choice beside taxing extra is spending much less. These are the alternatives.

Long run, we’d like a serious overhaul of the tax system so we aren’t aren’t so depending on capital beneficial properties, which is a curler coaster system the place if you hit a trough out there, it’s important to go and lay off a bunch of academics, then attempt to rent them again when the financial system is healthier.

TC: It’s wanting like Joe Biden goes to win the election, however there’s additionally a robust probability that he’ll be working with a Republican-controlled Senate. In the meantime, local weather change was not within the high 5 considerations for voters of both social gathering. Does this could get kicked down the highway once more?

No, it simply means they’ll need to work collectively and that he’ll need to go on to the problems which are hottest to get them by means of.

Trump had no clue that sustainable vitality is immensely standard right now and that a few of the states that used to dam inexperienced initiatives — together with Texas, North Dakota, and South Dakota — are more and more changing into wind and photo voltaic powers, such that their senators who used to say, ‘pure fuel eternally’ are additionally saying that photo voltaic and wind are using increasingly more individuals of their states.

What do you see as first steps?

SW: Biden will convey the U.S. again into the Paris local weather settlement. You’ll additionally see him on the entrance of this world motion towards the electrification of all the things, and there might be help for EVs and help for sustainable vitality.

You’ll additionally see some form of penalties or restrictions on carbon-based fuels due to the elevated information we have now that carbon within the environment is inflicting public well being issues, decreasing air high quality and that enormous insurance coverage firms are having to pay for [these things]. Now that Munich Re and others say, ‘We just about know what the price is, and we’re charging you again,’ the federal government can use that information to cost carbon producers appropriately.

TC: Conventional vitality firms– the largest carbon emitters — say they’ve resolved to deal with this drawback. Do you suppose that’s largely optics?

SW: Loads is optics, but it surely’s additionally a realization that you simply both change your online business mannequin otherwise you go down with the ship. You don’t need to take the Kodak method. You need to be Apple and reinvent your self.