Heavily Subsidized and Failing: Elon Musk and SolarCity

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., unveils the company’s newest product Powerpack in Hawthorne, Calif., Thursday, April 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., unveils the company’s newest product Powerpack in Hawthorne, Calif., Thursday, April 30, 2015.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Elon Musk is buying more shares of his own company, SolarCity, as Congress appears to be on the verge of reaching a compromise on renewable energy tax incentives that would leave out solar energy development. With SolarCity’s stock plummeting in value, Musk has reportedly lost about $155 million in the value of the company’s stock he owns. While solar energy in general, and SolarCity in particular struggle to be viable on the open market, Elon Musk is seeing his dream of success in solar energy fading fast.


Solar energy, like most form of renewable energy, struggles to become viable on the open market without significant government subsidies and/or tax incentives. In most instances, the energy produced by renewable energy is priced significantly higher than that generated by convention energy sources such as coal, natural gas, nuclear power. The political environment on Capitol Hill appears to have become less favorable for solar energy.

Congress may not renew a key solar energy tax incentive that is set to expire in less than one month, at the end of this year. Solar energy developers currently receive a 30 percent investment tax credit for projects developed by the end of this year, and those not finished otherwise will receive a 10 percent tax incentive. Solar developers want Congress to extend the deadline for the 30 percent tax incentive, but that seems unlikely. A compromise plan that is in the works by [mc_name name=’Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000755′ ] (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, would reinstate some of the incentives for wind power but not solar development.

As Congress considers extending tax incentives for solar energy development, SolarCity is rapidly being reported as a failure. Forbes magazine, reporting that “SolarCity’s Light Is Fading Fast,” refers to the company as another Elon Musk’s profitless yet “growing” companies.

The perception of SolarCity benefits from the increased awareness and emphasis the United States is placing on alternative energy, including solar. However, this increased awareness has not led to increased profits. Since 2012, SolarCity’s after-tax profit (NOPAT) has fallen from -$66 million to -$300 million in 2014. When including quarterly results through 2015, NOPAT has fallen even further to -$404 million on a trailing twelve-month (TTM) basis,” Forbes reported.


SolarCity was founded by billionaire business magnate Elon Musk, who also founded Tesla Motors and SpaceX, both of which have received enormous amounts of taxpayer subsidies as has also SolarCity. The three companies created by Musk, viewed as long-shot start-ups, have received more than $4.9 billion in federal subsidies combined, the Los Angeles Times reports, including about $2.5 billion for SolarCity alone.

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space,” the Los Angeles Times reports,” And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.”

Musk has huge dreams of success in solar energy, producing electric cars, and space exploration, and is willing to take wild risks in business and otherwise to accomplish his goals. The billionaire businessman, who once wrecked an uninsured $1 million McLaren F1 and once made a trip to Russia to attempt to purchase two rockets from the Putin regime for his SpaceX company, has somehow won billions in taxpayer support for his business ventures that have allowed him to amass a reported $11.6 billion of net worth according to Bloomberg News.

SolarCity’s stock plummeted based on reported losses of $204 million in the last quarter, and the likely end of the 30 percent tax incentive is not good news for the financial future of the company. A company owned by SolarCity called Zep Solar UK, exited the market for solar in the United Kingdom, blaming that on cuts in subsidies.


SolarCity’s stock continues to fall, as Gordon Johnson, an analyst from Axiom Capital, looking at the company, contends that it is not in the solar business.

Gordon Johnson from Axiom put a Sell rating on shares in Elon Musk’s solar vehicle, and put a price target of just $24 on the stock. At time of writing shares in SolarCity were selling for $42.66. Mr. Johnson is, according to the Financial Times, the only Wall Street voice calling for clients to sell shares in SolarCity,” LearnBonds.com reported, “Johnson, taking a contrarian line that has been well worn when it comes to firms run by Elon Musk, says that SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ:SCTY) isn’t even a solar power firm. In his view it’s just a leasing firm, and its success is based on a few things that just may not support it going forward.”

Reports that SolarCity has filed several “confidential treatment orders” with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are raising questions whether the company is hiding key information from investors. Such a request allows a company to file information confidentially with the SEC that would be otherwise made public.

The future doesn’t look bright for SolarCity, as its stock continues to fall and it loses any remaining investor confidence it may have. If investors aren’t confident in the future financial viability of SolarCity, and perhaps other solar firms like it, it would seem unlikely that members of Congress will want to further invest taxpayer money in tax incentives for these projects. Solar energy’s future on the open market will be brighter when technology allows it to be be price competitive with other forms of energy, not because the federal government can give Elon Musk or anyone else enough taxpayer funded benefits to make it happen. Perhaps Congress is realizing this as it appears set to end the 30 percent tax incentive for solar energy.



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