Court Rules Against Tesla in Case Filed By Environmentalists in Germany

In a setback for Tesla’s plans for Gigafactory Berlin, a top German court has ruled that Tesla must halt the clearing of trees in a habitat for endangered species of smooth snakes and sand lizards. The top administrative court in the Berlin-Brandenburg region ruled that Tesla did not have adequate plans to relocate the snakes.

This upholds a temporary ban on clearing the trees that would have lasted until the court could make a ruling. The decision says that the fringes of the area might not have been adequately cleared of snakes. Tesla has also failed to file required paperwork detailing plans to fund possible environmental restoration projects.

Tesla has indicated that the factory could be operational as early as the summer of 2021. It may face delays, however, due to a series of issues such as the water having been temporarily shut off due to an unpaid water bill. The neglect of the water bill may have been part of a larger issue that caused Tesla to replace the factory manager with a former Mercedes-Benz factory manager — a move that has sparked an exceptionally strong reaction from a prominent German automakers’ union. Like many of the ambitious timelines set by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the completion of the Gigafactory could have been delayed even without the court ruling.

When completed, the Gigafactory could make up to 150,000 electric vehicles per year, with plans to ramp it up to 500,000 vehicles annually. As planned, the Gigafactory will employ 10,000 people in the Berlin region. It had planned to place a logistics facility in the area affected by the court’s ruling.

The case had been brought by the environmentalist groups Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and Gruene Liga. Although Tesla said that it had already relocated numerous snakes and lizards found in the area, the environmentalist groups argued that it didn’t go far enough in its efforts to locate affected animals that might be hibernating. Such a thing would have put Tesla in violation of Germany’s Federal Nature Conservation Act, which bars killing “strictly protected species.”

Tesla has not yet issues an official statement on the ruling or announced any plans to relocate its logistics facility in the wake of the ruling. Neither has Elon Musk commented on the issue, even in tweets in which he often reacts to or announces important news regarding his companies.

However, the court has also ruled that construction on the rest of the Gigafactory can continue as planned because the remaining area had been adequately cleared. This could be seen as a partial victory for Tesla’s ambitious plans for the Gigafactory and an expanded presence in Europe’s electric vehicle market.