Tesla wants to convince. The electric car manufacturer opens its German “giga-factory” to the public on Saturday 9 October for an inaugural ceremony, while the company has still not received a building permit and some residents are oppose the project. On the program: electro music concert, Ferris wheel and vegetarian food trucks, for a day that the American group wants just like Berlin, European capital of the party.
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 Tesla factory, after two years of construction. All the invitations for the event were distributed after online registration, leaving many disappointed with so many requests. “Big-party, we’re coming!”, Jubilated on the contrary on Twitter a lucky chosen one, posting a photo of his precious sesame.
When the doors open, around 10:00 a.m. (8:00 a.m. GMT), residents could nevertheless play spoilers: they invite people to demonstrate against the site’s environmental impact. Through these “open doors”, the American manufacturer wants to show its white paw 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 allowed it to start work in 2019, even before receiving a building permit.
However, no final approval has since been issued by the local authorities, who are still assessing the impact of the plant on the environment, even though the work is almost completed. This exceptional regime – and the gruesome situation that ensues from it – has aroused the anger of some residents, worried about an attack on water resources and on 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 natural habitat of protected species of lizards and snakes.
A public consultation, planned as part of the procedure for obtaining the permit, is open until October 14. Until then, no final authorization should be granted, which is essential for the plant to start 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 plant, announced with great fanfare in November 2019, is located in Grünheide, on the outskirts of Berlin, and will cover 300 hectares, producing 500,000 electric vehicles per year. Elon Musk also plans to build “the world’s largest battery factory” there. The installation must benefit from state-of-the-art technologies, including “the largest molding machine for spare parts in the world,” notes Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, automotive expert and director of the German Center Automotive Research institute.
“This will significantly reduce production costs and make products of better quality,” he said. However, a scent of secrecy surrounds the site where the press is only admitted in drop-outs. But recruitment interviews are going well, according to several accounts, also prompting warnings from unions on respect for labor law and unionization.
The group will have to dismantle the plant at its own expense if no building permit is issued. An outcome deemed “improbable” by Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, because of “political support” for the project. “All political parties are in favor,” recalls the expert. But “edifice modifications” could be requested, delaying the opening. This, initially scheduled for July, has already been postponed to the end of 2021 / beginning of 2022.
The numerous setbacks “angered” Tesla, according to an open letter from the group published in March, in which he 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 deemed excessive by the business world.
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