A German court has forced Tesla to temporarily halt preparation work for its Gigafactory near Berlin after local activists raised concerns about its impact on wildlife and water supplies, Reuters reports. The electric car company is currently in the process of clearing 92 hectares of forest in Gruenheide, east of Berlin, where it hopes to build its first European Gigafactory.
Tesla announced plans for Gigafactory 4 last November, but has not yet been granted official planning permission for the factory itself. However, Germany’s environment ministry told the company it could start preparing the site in advance “at its own risk,” according to BBC News. Local activist group Gruene Liga Brandenburg (Green League of Brandenburg) subsequently complained about the work, citing environmental concerns.
Since Tesla was due to complete its tree-felling in just three more days, the court told the car company to temporarily stop the work so that the environmentalist group’s objections could be considered. “It should not be assumed that the motion seeking legal protection brought by the Green League lacks any chance of succeeding,” the court said in a statement justifying the stoppage, according to Reuters. Further court hearings are expected to take place this week.
Reuters notes that hundreds of demonstrators have protested over the factory and its impact on the environment. However lawmakers from two Germany political parties, the Christian Democrat and Free Democrat parties fear that the legal battles resulting from these environmental complaints could harm Germany’s pro-business credentials. Tesla is not the only large company to have faced difficulties in the country. Back in 2018, Google abandoned plans to launch a start-up incubator in Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood after locals protested the impending corporate gentrification.
In total, Tesla has bought almost 300 hectares for its German factory, which it hopes to open in 2021. Eventually it wants the factory to produce as many as 500,000 cars annually, and employ 12,000 people. The company has said it will relocate colonies of forest ants, reptiles, and bats that will be affected by its work, notes BBC News, citing local media reports. In January, authorities found and diffused seven WWII bombs on the site as part of Tesla’s construction preparation.
The company’s CEO Elon Musk has also defended the factory’s impact on the environment. In a series of tweets, Musk claimed that the Gigafactory 4 won’t use much water on a daily basis, and that the forest being cleared is “not a natural forest” (it was planted for a cardboard factory) and that only a small part will be used for the Gigafactory. “Giga Berlin will build sustainable energy vehicles using sustainable energy, so net environmental impact will be extremely positive!” the CEO tweeted.
Tesla’s Berlin Gigafactory will be its fourth worldwide, following the construction of Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai, China, which last year delivered its first cars just under a year after work at the factory began. Tesla’s first two Gigafactories are in the US in Nevada and Buffalo, New York.