What’s going on with Tesla’s $ 7 billion German “gigafactory”?


By Nadine Schimroszik and Christoph Steitz

GRUENHEIDE, Germany (Reuters) – Next Thursday, July 1 was to be a day of celebration for Tesla: the opening of its so-called “gigafactory” in the peaceful German municipality of Gruenheide, just outside Berlin.

But thanks to fierce environmental resistance, red tape and planning adjustments, it’s not at all clear when the first vehicles will roll off the production line at the electric carmaker’s first European plant.

Tesla has already postponed the planned opening to the end of 2021. Yet the environmental agency in Brandenburg, the state where the 5.8 billion euros ($ 6.9 billion) plant is being built. construction, has still not given its final approval, which means that a further delay cannot be ruled out, even in 2022.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

It is complicated.

Tesla and billionaire boss Elon Musk unveiled plans to build the plant in late 2019.

However, the site partially overlaps with a drinking water protection zone and borders a nature reserve, which has drawn strong opposition from local residents and environmental groups.

Last year, Tesla had to halt clearing of a forest at the site after environmentalists from the local Nabu group highlighted the risk posed to a rare local snake species whose winter sleep could be disrupted by logging. ‘trees.

The snakes had to be rescued before Tesla could continue, but there were many other efforts to stop work at the site for environmental reasons.

“Thousands of hectares of forest will be cleared to create the necessary infrastructure and housing,” said Manuela Hoyer, who lives about 9 km from the site and is a member of a local campaign against it.

“To build such a factory in a protected drinking water area is in fact an environmental crime.”

His comments reflect a wider trend in Germany which has also seen renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, come under fire from residents who fear the impact on local habitat.

IS THIS REALLY?

No.

Bureaucracy has also been a headache for Tesla, pitting the company’s practical approach against the infamous German bureaucracy.

So far, Tesla is working on the basis of preliminary building permits, with large factory halls and structures already built on the 740 acres of land it has purchased for 43.4 million euros.

But it is only when the National Environment Agency of Brandenburg provides the final permit that the plant can be opened.

While he has already said that he cannot say when it is each project that has obtained preliminary permits in Brandenburg finally received the final authorization.

But that does not discourage environmentalists from throwing keys in the works.

Last week, Gruene Liga and Nabu submitted an injunction to a German court against provisional building permits for the site, in the latest attempt to ensure Tesla complies with environmental laws.

“I think there could be less bureaucracy, that would be better,” Musk said on his last visit to Gruenheide in May, significantly less enthusiastic than his “Deutschland rocks” verdict eight months earlier.

THE BATTERY CELL FACTORY

Tesla’s construction plans had to be resubmitted earlier this month to reflect the addition of battery cell production to the site, costing precious months.

The Gruenheide plant includes several units to handle component manufacturing and final vehicle assembly, including a press shop, foundry, and body production.

It also includes a water recycling facility, a local fire brigade and a depot to ensure more efficient transportation of components and other goods. According to plans, the site’s electricity needs are to be met by local renewable energy sources.

But the addition of battery cell production required the company to modify and reclassify the entire application. Based on the most recent version, the plant will have the capacity to produce 500 million cells totaling 50 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year.

That’s more than the 40 GWh facility that rival Volkswagen plans to install about 300 kilometers west of Salzgitter, near its home port.

DOES ANYBODY SUPPORT THE FACTORY (EXCLUDING ELON)?

Yes.

Tesla’s move is seen as a major boost for East Germany, which struggles with high unemployment rates and difficulty attracting large industrial companies.

Once fully operational, the plant, which Tesla says will be “the world’s most advanced high-volume electric vehicle production plant”, is expected to create 12,000 jobs and have a capacity of 500,000 cars per year.

“We are in favor of a move towards emission-free mobility and the cars needed to achieve this have to be built somewhere,” said Ralf Schmilewski, member of the Green Party in neighboring Gruenheide, Erkner.

He said Tesla’s plans also address a demographic issue, which has seen younger generations leave the structurally weak zone in their desperate search for jobs.

“Now they have a perspective and don’t have to budge.”

SO WHAT IS THE FOLLOWING?

Until mid-July, members of the public can browse the roughly 11,000 pages of Tesla’s candidacy documents, including blueprints, tables and calculations, in Gruenheide town hall, the third time they are exposed.

As part of the process, anyone can file objections until August 16, before the Brandenburg Environmental Agency decides whether a public debate should take place on September 13.

When the documents were last made public, in 2020, more than 400 objections were raised.

After that, there is no clear timeline. At some point, the agency is expected to grant final approval – but when can anyone guess.

($ 1 = 0.8410 euros)

(Reporting by Nadine Schimroszik and Christoph Steitz; editing by Pravin Char)


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