U.S., Germany strike a deal to allow completion of controversial Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline
WASHINGTON – The United States and Germany reached an agreement to allow completion of the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a thorny, long-standing point of contention between the otherwise stalwart allies.
The agreement reached between Washington and Berlin, which was announced on Wednesday, aims to invest more than 200 million euros in energy security in Ukraine as well as sustainable energy across Europe.
“Should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine, Germany will take action at the national level and press for effective measures at the European level, including sanctions to limit Russian export capabilities to Europe in the energy sector,” a senior State Department official said on a call with reporters on Wednesday.
The senior State Department official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the agreement candidly, added that the U.S. will retain the prerogative of levying sanctions, as well, in the case if Russia uses energy as a tool of coercion.
The official said the United States and Germany are “resolutely committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine and therefore, consulted closely with Kyiv on this matter.
The unease surrounding the nearly complete Nord Stream 2 project, a sprawling undersea pipeline that will pump Russian gas directly into Germany, stems from Moscow’s history of using the energy sector to gain leverage over Russia’s neighbors, namely Ukraine.
When completed, the undersea pipeline will span 764 miles from Russia to Germany, making it one of the longest offshore gas pipelines in the world. Last month, the Kremlin said that only 62 miles of Nord Stream 2 were left to build.
In May, the United States waived sanctions on the Swiss-based company Nord Stream 2 AG, which is running the pipeline project, and its German chief executive. The waiver gave Berlin and Washington three more months to reach an agreement on Nord Stream 2.
The agreement comes on the heels of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House, the first by a European leader since Biden took office and likely her last trip to Washington after nearly 16 years at the helm of Europe’s largest economy.
Merkel, the first woman to lead Germany, has previously said she will step down after the September national elections.
During a joint press conference at the White House, Merkel pledged to take a tough stance against Russia if Moscow misused the energy sector for political gains.
On Wednesday, the White House announced that Biden will host Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy next month.
Ahead of the July 15 meeting, Biden administration officials and representatives from Germany told CNBC that the leaders of the world’s largest and fourth-largest economies were anxious to rebuild a frayed transatlantic relationship.
“Obviously, over the past years, we had a number of fits and starts in the bilateral relationship,” said a senior German government official, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about Merkel’s agenda.
“The entire focus was on issues where we disagreed,” the official said, adding that sometimes “allies were seen as foes.”
Throughout his administration, former President Donald Trump frequently dressed down allies and often singled out Merkel’s Germany for being “delinquent in their payments” to NATO.
Last year, Trump approved a plan that would remove 9,500 U.S. troops stationed in Germany to other countries, another blow to the transatlantic relationship.
“The U.S.-German relationship was heavily negatively impacted during the Trump administration. So, there was no question that the relationship had to be renewed rebuilt, etcetera,” explained Jenik Radon, adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of Public and International Affairs.
Radon, a legal scholar who has worked in more than 70 countries on energy issues, spoke to the complex nature of global energy deals.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline aims to double the volume of natural gas exported directly to Germany via a network beneath the Baltic Sea, bypassing an existing route through Ukraine.
“Once you try to deliver gas or oil through a pipeline through transit countries, you always put yourself in a predicament because you have a third party that is also involved,” said Randon.
“It’s not just the seller, it’s not just the buyer, there’s also the transit one, but you have no absolute control over that third country,” he said, adding that “doing transit deals are among the most difficult.”
Experts on the region see the undersea pipeline as a form of Russian aggression toward Ukraine.
“By eliminating Ukraine as a transit country, Russia can deny it the benefits that come from having gas delivered across its territory,” explained Stephen Sestanovich, senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
There are two elements to the issue that people often mix up, he added, pointing to Russia’s ability to use natural gas as a political weapon against Ukraine as well as its ability to hurt Ukraine’s economy.
“That’s why the Biden administration has focused on trying to limit or compensate for any economic hit — and it wants a firm German buy-in on that goal,” he said.
However, Russia’s grip over American allies has weakened somewhat due to shifts in energy markets, according to Sestanovich.
“In the years that Nord Stream 2 has been discussed and now all but finished, energy markets have changed, and it’s become much harder for Russia to hold European countries hostage — there are just too many alternative sources of energy,” he said. “The image we have of Russia with a political stranglehold on our allies is becoming outdated.”
Avis has new T&Cs for renting its EVs, and they’re a little weird
Tesla Model 3 Source: Tesla
Car rental giant Avis just sent an email out today to its customers to let that it has new rental terms and conditions for its fleet EVs. Some of the company’s EV rules are a bit of a head scratcher.
Here’s what the email said:
As we introduce Electric Vehicles to our fleet, our rental terms have been amended. To accommodate our expanding vehicle inventory, this amends the agreement signed by you with respect to the rental of a vehicle powered by an electric motor (an “EV”). Our updated terms can be found here.
Note that these were sent out by Avis Canada, but the rental terms and conditions are for both the United States and Canada.
I’ve pasted the seven-plus points terms included in the EV section below, and my comments are after each point, in bolded italics:
39. ELECTRIC VEHICLE (EV) TERMS. This EV Amendment amends the rental agreement signed by you with respect to the rental of a vehicle powered by an electric motor (an “EV”) from Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, Aviscar, Inc., or any Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, affiliate, or the independent Avis Rent A Car System, LLC, licensee identified on the rental agreement (collectively referred to herein as “Avis”).
Boilerplate text. All good. Next.
1) AMENDMENT TO RENTAL AGREEMENT: This EV Amendment simultaneously amends the terms of your rental from Avis with respect to the terms herein only. All other terms of your rental remain in full force and effect. In the event of any conflict between the terms of this EV Amendment and your other rental terms, the terms of this EV Amendment shall govern.
More boilerplate. Nothing to see here.
2) ONE WAY RENTALS ARE NOT PERMITTED: Due to unique infrastructure needs associated with EV’s, your EV must be returned to your rental location on the date/time specified in your rental terms. If your EV is not returned to the renting location, all costs incurred in transporting your EV back to the renting location will be assessed to you. In addition, you will be assessed a fee for Avis’ loss of use of the EV between the time that you should have returned the EV to the renting location and the time that it is returned to the renting location up to a maximum of thirty (30) days. The loss of use fee will be your daily rental rate.
“Unique infrastructure needs.” LOL.
At the end of January, a couple of us at Electrek received a PR announcement announcing that Avis was launching a “significant number of EV charging stations at the George Bush International Airport in Houston” with EverCharge. The EV charging stations will “only be used by the Avis and Budget fleets of EVs and PHEVs available for rent” at Houston airport.
I asked, “How many EVs does Avis have for rent across the US, and which makes and models?” And got the reply: “Avis is not commenting on the specifics of its fleet at this time.”
Bummer, because Hertz sure is commenting, and with Tom Brady to boot.
I asked the spokesperson how many EV charging stations Avis is installing at Houston airport, and they wouldn’t tell me – they only said that both DC and Level 2 are being put in.
I asked what the rollout plan is for other North American airports, and got the reply:
Following the launch at the Houston airport, Avis and EverCharge plan to extend the partnership to additional airport locations this year.
So, based on the above information, it would appear that the reason why a car rental customer has to return the EV to the original rental location – in this case, airports – is because Avis doesn’t have enough EV charging infrastructure yet.
I get that this is a growing pains issue, but simply, it isn’t very practical. Not everyone returns to the place where they rented a car.
Maybe Avis should have installed more EV charging infrastructure before it rolled out its unknown quantity of EVs.
One can currently rent a Tesla Model 3 from Avis in seven US states – all in the West. It’s kind of silly that one can’t drive between those locations without having to return to home base.
3) BATTERY CHARGING LEVELS AT VEHICLE CHECK OUT: Avis will rent the EV with at least a 70% charge on the battery. The range of your EV will vary based on a number of factors including vehicle load, driver’s actions such as speed and acceleration, climate and terrain factors such as inclines. Avis does not warrant or guarantee the range of an EV.
Why 70%? The ideal topped-up charge level is 80%. If Avis has EV chargers at its rental locations, then it should charge them to 80%.
And Avis ought to print up a helpful document, or give renters a QR code, so they can read about why and how vehicle load, speed, and acceleration affect charge. Let’s not say there are factors without explaining them.
4) BATTERY CHARGING LEVELS AT VEHICLE RETURN: Your EV must be returned to Avis with a battery charge level of at least 70%. If returned at less than 70% but more than 10% battery charge level, a charging fee of $35 will be assessed to you. If returned with less than a 10% battery charge level, you will be assessed an additional low charge fee of $35 (a total of $70 charging fees if returned with a battery charge of less than 10%). The charging fee is based on the kilowatt hours, overhead, loss of use of the EV and administrative costs Avis incurs in charging the vehicle. Note: fees assessed in the United States refer to U.S. dollars and fees assessed in Canada refer to Canadian dollars.
A $35 car charging fee is a bit steep. Let’s say a driver returns the car with 50% charge – the amount of money to bring it to 70% would be around US $5 at the most.
An 80kwh Tesla battery x 20c/kwh (high estimate) = $16 assuming 0-100% charge.
But I guess this is like when you bring a gas car back empty without prior arrangements, and car rental companies charge you a really high fill-up fee. And if Avis has DC chargers, then they won’t have to wait long to charge up a car that has a battery charge level of less than 70%.
5) ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE: Roadside assistance is available for your EV but fuel cannot be delivered to EV’s. If you require roadside service because you depleted your EV’s batteries, your EV will be towed to your renting location and the towing expense will be assessed to you. If you require another vehicle due to a breakdown, you may be provided a gasoline powered vehicle in which case, all fuel provisions of your rental terms shall apply with respect to your replacement vehicle.
“Fuel cannot be delivered to EVs” – heehee. Love it. It would be cool if Avis invested in some mobile EV charging trucks to make up for the fact that they don’t actually have enough EV charging infrastructure yet to service their EV fleets.
Why can’t the EV be towed to the nearest Tesla Supercharger or Electrify America or similar? Why does it have to go all the way back to the renting location? What if the driver is on a road trip? This one definitely qualifies as weird. This may scare some people off who wanted to try an EV for the first time.
6) SPECIAL EV EQUIPMENT: All EV equipment including, but not limited to, charging equipment, keys, key cards, fobs and/or remote (“EV Equipment”) provided with your EV must be returned. The full replacement cost of any EV Equipment not returned with your EV will be charged to you. LDW, even if elected, does not cover EV Equipment.
Maybe this is a legal thing, but surely it would be common sense that keys, key cards, and fobs would have to be returned, much like any gas rental car? Perhaps Avis has experienced some customers throwing away key cards because they think they’re like hotel key cards? At any rate, I’d be pretty annoyed if I was an Avis employee and customers kept throwing away the key cards, so fair enough. Fobs is a bit of an overstretch. I guess they just had to mention them to cover backs.
7) UNIQUE TESLA TERMS: If you rented a Tesla EV, you will be able to access Tesla Superchargers, subject to availability, to recharge Tesla vehicles provided, however: 1) any fees, charges and/or costs to access and utilize the Tesla Superchargers shall be your responsibility; 2) any Tesla “idle fees”, as defined and charged by Tesla, shall be your responsibility (see Tesla’s website for details https://www.tesla.com/support/supercharger-idle-fee); and 3) the provisions of “Battery Charging Levels at Vehicle Return” shall continue to apply to you.
These are fair terms, because they’re essentially Tesla terms 101.
TESLA VEHICLES MAY NOT BE WASHED AT AN AUTOMATIC CAR WASH. ANY DAMAGE CAUSED BY AN AUTOMATIC CAR WASH SHALL BE ASSESSED TO YOU PURSUANT TO THE “DAMAGE/LOSS TO THE CAR” PROVISIONS OF YOUR RENTAL TERMS AND WILL NOT BE COVERED BY LDW.
I love the bold capital letters for the CAR WASH RULES. One can take Teslas through car washes, but only in touchless car washes. Teslas have Car Wash Mode.
Maybe Avis decided that putting its Teslas into Car Wash Mode is too complicated for its customers and too much like hard work for its reps to explain how to use the feature to every EV renter? It’s never occurred to me to take a rental car to a car wash, but I’m not fastidious with my cars. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this car wash thing in the comments below.
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Elon Musk found not guilty in the Tesla 420 take-private case
A jury has found Elon Musk not guilty in the case of his tweet about taking Tesla private at $420 a share.
5 years later, this single tweet is still haunting the Tesla CEO.
For those who don’t remember the situation, back in 2018, Musk briefly considered trying to bring Tesla private and disclosed that to investors through a simple tweet.
The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled that Musk exaggerated and misled shareholders when saying that the funding was “secured” in the tweet:
Musk went on a campaign against the SEC, calling them names and claiming that they were working for people shorting the electric automaker. But ultimately, Tesla and Musk ended up reaching a settlement with the SEC.
As part of the settlement, Musk agreed to step down from the role of chairman of the board, and Tesla and Musk had to each pay $20 million in fines.
The CEO presumably didn’t want Tesla to have to pay for his issue with the SEC. While he couldn’t directly pay for Tesla’s part of the fine, he decided to buy $20 million worth of shares from Tesla. That way, he sort of indirectly ended up paying for Tesla’s fine – though he also ended up with ~71,000 additional Tesla shares in the process.
As we previously reported, Musk ended up actually making money from the settlement due to Tesla’s stock price surging.
Another part of the settlement was that Musk and Tesla had to agree for the former to have his tweets reviewed by the latter’s legal department if they are material to the company.
Musk has consistently denied any wrongdoings and claimed he settled with the SEC under pressure from Tesla investors.
Separately, Tesla investors have sued Musk personally over the tweet – claiming that they were defrauded of millions of dollars as Musk exaggerated the claim that funding was secured.
The case was ongoing for years, but it was finally heard by a jury in Northern California last week.
Today, the jury released its verdict – finding Musk not liable for the investor’s losses.
Musk commented on the verdict:
Thank goodness, the wisdom of the people has prevailed! I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding of innocence in the Tesla 420 take-private case.
That’s probably the end of this saga – though Musk is still fighting some of the aspects of his settlement with the SEC, primarily the need to review his tweets material to Tesla’s stock.
That’s probably the right thing.
As we previously reported, all the evidence pointed to Musk being a bit too excited and jumping the gun with the tweet.
For him to be found liable, they would have to prove that he was intentionally planning to defraud investors and that’s a tall task.
He certainly should be more cautious about tweeting things like that when no deal has been signed, but I don’t think it’s fraud.
However, you’d hope that he would become more cautious about his tweeting after this entire saga, but we haven’t seen much evidence of that either.
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Jury find Musk, Tesla not liable in securities fraud trial following ‘funding secured’ tweets
Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his security detail depart the company’s local office in Washington, January 27, 2023.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Elon Musk and Tesla were found not liable by a jury in a San Francisco federal court on Friday in a class action securities fraud trial stemming from tweets Musk made in 2018.
The Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter CEO was sued by Tesla shareholders over a series of tweets he wrote in Aug. 2018 saying he had “funding secured” to take the automaker private for $420 per share, and that “investor support” for such a deal was “confirmed.” Trading in Tesla was halted after his tweets, and its share price remained volatile for weeks.
Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before reading their verdict. Plaintiffs’ attorneys told CNBC they were “disappointed with the verdict and considering next steps.”
“I am deeply appreciative of the jury’s unanimous finding,” Musk wrote on Twitter.
“He doesn’t think ahead of time in that rushed moment that this could be interpreted differently and what it means to him,” Musk’s attorney told the jury earlier on Friday. “In that moment he didn’t think, ‘how could my words be interpreted differently by you than it means to me.'”
“You have to assess this in context – he’s considering taking it private and the issue is will it actually take it forward,” Musk’s attorney said. “No fraud has ever been built on the back of a consideration.”
Musk’s lead counsel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The shareholders in the certified class action lawsuit included a mix of stock and options buyers who allege that Musk’s tweets were reckless and false, and that relying on his statements to make decisions about when to buy or sell cost them significant amounts of money.
Musk later claimed that he had a verbal commitment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, and thought funding would come through at his proposed price based on a handshake. However, the deal never materialized.
During the course of this trial, Musk also said he would have sold shares of SpaceX to finance a going private deal for Tesla, as well as taking funds from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
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