A few kilometers from Berlin, a battle unfolds in David’s air against Goliath: the construction site of the “mega-factory” of the Tesla car manufacturer faces the rejection of a part of the population worried about it. Water resources.
“When I heard on TV that the Tesla Factory was moving here, I couldn’t believe it,” recalled Stephen Schurch, behind the wheel of his German car.
At the age of 60, this resident of Erkner municipality, three train stations from the capital, is one of the faces of the fight against the first European manufacturer of electric cars in Tesla, which is scheduled to open in July, in the Brandenburg region, near Berlin.
“Tesla needs a lot of water, and this water is not present in the area,” the exasperated environmental activist, president of the Biology Association and a reference for the influential German NGO Napo.
Announced in November 2019, the project is enthusiastically welcomed in the country, proud of the honor bestowed on the ‘Made in Germany’ industry.
But it also sparked distrust in the immediate vicinity of the future plant.
Demonstrations, legal actions, open letters … Residents, with the support of federal environmental NGOs Napo and Groen-Lega, have done everything to delay the project.
Last year, justice forced Tesla to suspend construction, after a brief complaint from associations that feared destroying the natural habitats of protected species of lizards and snakes.
Now, the water consumption of the future plant is in question.
This could, through successive expansions, reach approximately 3.6 million cubic meters per year, or 30% of the available volume in the region, according to a survey by ZDF TV.
The associations say there is added weight in the regions already experiencing tension, which have been affected over the past three years by droughts in the summer.
“The water situation is bad and will deteriorate,” local association spokesman IG Fraenbrenk, Heiko Pachin, told AFP.
The risk of drying up of protected wetlands, which are home to local biodiversity, is of concern.
The Minister of the Environment of Brandenburg, Axel Vogel, confirmed on German television in March that “capacities are not being exceeded at the moment.”
But the authorities acknowledge the “significant impact of the drought,” and have set up a working group to think about this issue in the long term.
The Giga plant will cover 300 hectares, produce 500,000 electric cars annually and will house the “largest battery manufacturer in the world”.
The site was implemented at a rapid pace, as per the wishes of Elon Musk, the company’s president in California.
In a year and a half, vast coniferous forests gave way to many concrete foundations on an ocher floor, to which trucks reach via “Tesla Street” (Tesla Street).
The American manufacturer benefits from an exceptional pre-licensing procedure for its site, which has allowed it to begin work even before a building permit is obtained.
However, final approval is still under consideration, as the authorities have to control the environmental impact of the project: if the permit is not granted, Tesla would theoretically have to dismantle the facility at its expense.
But “there is pressure [sur les autorités de régulation]Michael Grüne, a representative of the non-governmental organization Grüne Liga, told AFP.
At the end of March, Tesla said he was “disturbed” by the slow pace of procedures in Germany, calling in a letter for “reform” in favor of projects that benefit the environment, which, he said, are his condition.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier admitted that his government had “not done enough” to curb the bureaucratic slowdown in the country.
Despite Germany’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects often slow due to bureaucracy that the economic world considers excessive.
There are many examples, such as the new Berlin airport, which opened last October after an eight-year delay, and the Stuttgart train station, which began construction in 2010, has yet to be completed.
Brandenburg’s economy minister, Joerg Steinbach, also mentioned in February that the Tesla plant might open late for this reason.