Regulators granted Tesla conditional approval to begin manufacturing at Gigafactory Berlin after months of delays. Many of the delays were caused by bureaucratic red tape, challenges from environmentalists, supply chain-related challenges, and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tesla occasionally expressed frustration with the amount of red tape it had to cut through with the regulators, which slowed the process down. It had planned to open the Gigafactory last summer.
German environmentalist groups brought legal challenges alleging that Tesla did not take adequate steps to relocate an endangered snake species at the construction site and improperly cleared trees from the land at the construction site. A judge dismissed one case in which environmentalist groups claimed that they were simply seeking “clarification” of provisional permits that allowed Tesla to conduct equipment testing.
An extremist environmentalist group claimed responsibility for an act of arson that damaged power lines leading to Gigafactory Berlin.
Tesla can begin production at the Gigafactory after a required period during which interested parties can submit objections. This appears to be the German equivalent to the public comment period that U.S. regulators typically allow when making regulatory decisions.
(And, yes, the public comment period can be a nuisance for Elon Musk’s companies too. The FAA received so many comments for the planned orbital test of SpaceX’s Starship rocket that it pushed back its final decision so that it can review them all along with finalizing legally required environmental reviews.)
The conditional approval came from the Brandenburg state environment office. Many of the objections are likely to come from the same environmentalists who caused delays with the legal challenges. Environmentalists are most likely to object to the Gigafactory’s water usage, which they claim will be equivalent to a 30,000-person town.
Tesla previously agreed to reduce its water usage as much as possible. Elon Musk also introduced a more efficient method for manufacturing its EV batteries that uses less water during the “Battery Day” event in 2020. Tesla prefers to make its own batteries or own stakes in companies that make batteries for electric vehicles.
However, environmentalists could still put a kink in the works by forcing the local water utility service to pause service to Gigafactory Berlin while water usage is reviewed. The water utility service previously paused service due to an unpaid bill, which may have been a factor in Tesla’s decision to replace the site manager with a former Mercedes-Benz factory manager – something that reportedly caused a flap with a local automakers’ union.
The final opening of Gigafactory Berlin will benefit Tesla by improving its ability to build electric vehicles for the European market. It currently manufactures most of the electric vehicles that it sells in Europe at Gigafactory Shanghai.
Tesla is also currently working on construction at Gigafactory Austin, which is expected to manufacture the Cybertruck and Tesla Semi. Gigafactory Austin will employ as many as 10,000 people. Tesla employs as many as 100,000 people worldwide and has smashed a string of company records for quarterly deliveries of electric vehicles over the past year.