Former California Controller and eBay honcho Steve Westly, now
on the cover of Venture Capital Journal, discusses greenhouse
politics and investing in this NWN video.
As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spends the bulk of his week up in Canada, signing climate change accords with British Columbia and Ontario, fending off the array of wind and solar farm developers who want him to dedicate their projects, we’re reminded of the impact of California, with top Democratic presidential candidates adopting the state’s climate change program and Silicon Valley leading the charge in new tech investing for the greenhouse era.
Former state Controller and eBay honcho Steve Westly, a longtime Democratic and environmental activist, has thrown himself into the era of greenhouse investing and, now in a venture capital firm housed at Silicon Valley’s leading venture capital firm, is the cover subject of the latest Venture Capital Journal. He’s on the board of directors of Tesla Motors, maker of the first electric-powered sports car, which Schwarzenegger and George Clooney have on order, and is very involved with solar energy and biofuels.
Westly ran a near-miss race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last June in California against a conventional liberal Democrat, Phil Angelides, embraced by the party’s establishment. Angelides went on to a 17-point landslide loss against Schwarzenegger, in one of the more Democratic states in the nation, in the midst of a national Democratic wave.
You might suppose Westly would be upset about this. But the former top eBay executive is, as Warren Beatty puts it, a “sunny personality.” Besides, he probably saved himself $40 million from his personal fortune. Schwarzenegger, once he was off his seemingly right-wing kick of 2005 and back on the course he discussed in 2002 and 2003, was going to be hard to beat. And now Westly, having gained valuable experience, his fortune more or less intact, can be a major participant in the green tech/clean tech — advocates can’t quite decide on the name — “explosion,” as Schwarzenegger calls it. The phenomenon is something that all the top Democratic presidential candidates extoll, although perhaps none so much as Barack Obama, for whom Westly is the California co-chairman.
Some Republicans talk up the bandwagon of clean tech, too, with John McCain, an advocate of greenhouse gas regulation, and Rudy Giuliani, seen in an earlier NWN video discussing the problem of climate change, foremost among the new crew. Even President George W. Bush pays some lip service to the idea. But no one is quite so much on the bandwagon, with the possible exception of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as California’s governor.
Schwarzenegger, in his speech before the Economic Club of Toronto, intended as a follow-on to his address at last month’s Newsweek forum address in Washington, was in exuberant mode.
“My discussion of the United States,” he told the Toronto crowd yesterday, “today relates to something that Canadians care very much about-and that is the environment. I’ve come to Canada to tell you something you may find shocking — and yet I hope also encouraging. In spite of disagreements over global warming at the G-8 summit or elsewhere, I believe the United States is about to go from environmental problem to environmental problem solver. In fact, I believe the United States is the world’s best hope for solving the global warming crisis.”
“In fact, California may be doing more to save U.S. automakers than anyone else, because we are pushing them to change if they want to sell cars in the Golden State.”
Schwarzenegger said this shortly after signing a deal with the provincial premier to adopt a low carbon fuel standard, in which all transportation fuels will cut their carbon content 10% by 2020.
“California,” declared Schwarzenegger, “has set standards more stringent than any nation. Now, do I believe the standards in California will solve global warming? No. That’s not why I did it. What we’re doing is changing the dynamic. California is so big, California is so powerful that when the seventh largest economy in the world does something, it has consequences. California is sending the world a message: we are going to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. We are going to lead. We are going to show the way forward.”
As Schwarzenegger sets the table rhetorically, Westly and other venture capital investors look to the nitty gritty. Along with the electric car company Tesla — which just did another $45 million round of venture investing, and has sold out its first “halo” round of sports cars at $92,000 per car and is raising the price to $98,000, and is developing a sports sedan for the upper middle class — Westly is very involved with solar electric power generation and “cellulosic,” i.e., non-corn ethanol projects to fuel vehicles. Cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from the “wood chips” for which former Governor-turned-Attorney General Jerry Brown was once much derided, is key to ethanol’s future, because it does not drive up the price of an important food stock.
The fact is that we’re not yet sure what new fuels will be most appropriate for personal vehicles — the clear and overwhelming choice for Californians — in the greenhouse era. It may be hydrogen, which Schwarzenegger hypes, it may be hybrid, it may be electric, it may be ethanol or other biofuels.
The future, as a certain character in a movie called Terminator 2 once said, is not set. But its general direction is.
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