Environmentalists battle Tesla on proposed “Giga-factory” in Berlin

Berlin, April 18 2021: Local environmentalist Steffen Schorch from Erkner village in Berlin  is a representative of the Nabu ecologist campaign group and has become face for the fight between the US auto giant and EV maker Tesla and the local community.

“When I saw on TV that the Tesla factory was going to be built here, I couldn’t believe it,” said Schorch, driving his trusty German-made car. The 60-year-old from Erkner village in the Berlin commuter belt has become one of the faces of the fight against the US auto giant’s first European factory, due to open in the Brandenburg region near Berlin in July. According to the activist, “Tesla needs far too much water, and the region does not have this water.”

The giga-factory which was announced in November 2019, Tesla’s project was warmly welcomed as an endorsement of the “Made in Germany” quality mark but was immediately met with opposition from local residents. Demonstrations, legal action, open letters, residents have done everything in their power to delay the project, supported by powerful environmental campaign groups Nabu and Gruene Liga.

The auto giant was forced to temporarily suspend forest clearing last year after campaigners won an injunction over threats to the habitats of resident lizards and snakes during their winter slumber. And now they have focused their attention on water consumption which is around 30 percent of the region’s available supply. The extra demand could place a huge burden on a region already affected by water shortages and hit by summer droughts for the past three years.

The impact on surrounding wetlands is also of concern to local residents and environmentalists as they are an important source of biodiversity in the region. Axel Vogel, Brandenburg’s environment minister sought to play down the issue, saying that “capacity has not yet been exceeded”.

According to Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla group, the giga-factory is set to sprawl over 300 hectares southwest of the German capital. Tesla is aiming to produce 500,000 electric vehicles a year at the plant, which will also be home to the largest battery factory in the world.

Already, swathes of coniferous forest have been cleared to make way for vast concrete rectangles on a red earth base, accessed via the already iconic Tesla Strasse (Tesla Street).

The new site still has only provisional construction permits, but Tesla has been authorised by local officials to begin work at its own risk. Final approval depends on an assessment of the project’s environmental impact, including the issue of water. In theory, if approval is not granted, Tesla will have to dismantle the entire complex at any time.

Tesla said it was irritated by the slow pace of German bureaucracy, calling for exceptions to the rules for projects that help the environment. Economy Minister Peter Altmaier agreed in that his government “had not done enough” to reduce bureaucracy, lauding the giga-factory as a very important project. While Brandenburg’s economy minister, Joerg Steinbach, raised the possibility in February that the Tesla factory could be delayed beyond its July planned opening.

Major infrastructure projects by business communities in Germany are often held up because of the bureaucracy despite Germany’s reputation for efficiency.

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