Tesla opens its German “giga-factory”… without a building permit

Tesla wants to convince. The electric car manufacturer opens its German “giga-factory” to the public on Saturday, October 9 for a ceremony that looks like an inauguration, while the company has still not received a building permit and some local residents are worried. oppose the project. On the program: electro music concert, Ferris wheel and vegetarian “food trucks”, for a day that the American group wants to reflect Berlin, the European capital of parties.

The emblematic boss of the group, Elon Musk, will be present and several thousand people are expected to walk the aisles of the future first European factory of Tesla, after two years of construction. All the invitations for the event were distributed after online registration, making many disappointed as the requests were numerous. “Giga-fête, we are coming!” On the contrary, jubilant on Twitter a lucky one, posting a photo of his precious sesame.

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Exceptional procedure

When the doors open, around 10:00 a.m. (08:00 GMT), local residents could nevertheless play the spoilsports: they invite people to demonstrate against the environmental impact of the site. Through these “open doors”, the American manufacturer wants to show its credentials to the inhabitants, after several months of controversy having enamelled the site. Tesla has indeed benefited from an exceptional and controversial prior authorization procedure, which has allowed it to begin work in 2019, even before receiving a building permit.

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However, no final approval has since been issued by the local authorities, who are still evaluating the impact of the plant on the environment, even though the work is almost finished. This exceptional regime – and the grotesque situation that results from it – has angered some local residents, worrying about an attack on water resources and the region’s biodiversity.

Demonstrations, legal action, open letters… opponents, supported by associations, have done everything to delay the project. “Tesla must submit to the same procedures as other companies”, recently protested the Grüne Liga association. Last year, justice even forced Tesla to suspend its construction site because of the risk of destruction of the natural habitat of protected species of lizards and snakes.

Scent of Secret

A public consultation, planned as part of the procedure for obtaining the permit, is open until 14 October. Until then, no final authorization should be granted, which is essential for the factory to launch production. “No date has yet been set” to issue this authorization, assured the Ministry of the Environment of Brandenburg, the region where the plant is located.

The factory, announced with great fanfare in November 2019, is located in Grünheide, a suburb of Berlin, and will cover 300 hectares, for a production of 500,000 electric vehicles per year. Elon Musk also plans to build “the largest battery factory in the world” there. The installation must benefit from the latest technologies, including “the largest molding machine for spare parts in the world”, notes Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, automotive expert and director of the German institute Center Automotive Research.

“This will significantly reduce production costs and make products of better quality,” he says. However, a scent of secrecy surrounds the site where the press is only admitted in dribs and drabs. But the recruitment interviews are going well, according to several testimonies, also prompting warnings from the unions about respect for labor law and unionization.

Tesla “irritated”

The group will have to dismantle the factory at its own expense if no building permit is issued to it. An outcome deemed “improbable” by Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, because of the “political support” for the project. “All the political parties are in favor of it,” recalls the expert. But “modifications to the building” could be requested, delaying the opening. This, initially scheduled for July, has already been postponed to the end of 2021/beginning of 2022.

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The numerous setbacks have “irritated” Tesla, according to an open letter from the group published in March, in which it called for a “reform” of licensing procedures in the country. Despite Germany’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often slowed down by a bureaucracy considered excessive by the economic world.

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