Tesla faces fine for illegal construction at German Gigafactory

9 Jul 2021

Tesla factory in California. Image: © Aleksei Potov/Stock.adobe.com

Brandenburg’s environmental ministry said the company built several holding tanks at its Gigafactory site without permission.

Tesla is to be fined for illegal building activity on the site of its planned factory in Brandenburg, Germany.

Brandenburg state’s environmental ministry that the electric car company had constructed three chemical holding tanks at the site without permission. In addition to the fine, state inspectors are visiting the site today (9 July) to investigate the possibility of other unauthorised work.

The €5.8bn Gigafactory was originally scheduled to open on 1 July, but Tesla pushed the date back to late 2021. However, the Brandenburg environmental ministry has still not given ultimate approval to construction plans, leaving even this timeframe subject to change.

Plans were revised in June to include a battery production facility, which will be the largest in the world, according to Tesla. However, this change may add further delays to the process.

The construction project, located in the Gruenheide municipality just 30km from Berlin city centre, was announced in late 2019. Tesla has faced significant opposition from local environmental groups over the project, and the company has complained several times about the bureaucracy involved in securing all necessary permits for the factory.

Controversy over the construction has centred around the factory’s use of water (which will be about 1.42m cubic metres a year), wildlife conservation in the area and deforestation. Tesla has made plans to build a water recycling facility on the site and to source the necessary energy from renewable sources.

Elon Musk, the firm’s CEO, has expressed frustration at previous delays. Visiting the site in May, he said: “I think there could be less bureaucracy, that would be better.”

In response to criticism of the factory’s planned water usage, he commented that the site was “not in a desert”, But part of the site is located on a drinking water protection zone, and the Brandenburg state water association declared a severe drought in June.

Tesla says the facility, once completed, will create some 12,000 jobs in north-eastern Germany and produce up to 500,000 cars annually. The region has struggled economically in recent decades, and several local politicians at a municipal and state level have lobbied in favour of the plant’s construction in Gruenheide.

The construction plans are currently going through a public consultation process, with citizens able to submit objections to Brandenburg’s environmental ministry until mid-August. During a previous such process last year, more than 400 challenges were filed.

Yesterday (8 July), Tesla announced plans to introduce a cheaper version of its Model Y in China. The new price will make the vehicle eligible for government subsidies, further lowering the cost to the customer. The company produces both the Model Y and Model 3 at its Shanghai facility, but has faced public relations issues in China in recent months.

In June, the company unveiled its new supercomputer, which it says is the fifth most powerful in the world. It plans to use the system to work on autonomous driving technology.

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin