Environmental review threatens construction of German Tesla plant

Tesla Model S sedans move down the assembly line at Tesla's electric car factory in Fremont, Calif.
Tesla Model S sedans move down the assembly line at Tesla’s electric car factory in Fremont, Calif.
(Jerry Hirsch)

Elon Musk’s first electric car plant in Europe is facing legal delays that could set the project back by several months after a court halted work on clearing a forest for the new Tesla Inc. factory near Berlin while it considers a challenge by environmentalists.

The Berlin-Brandenburg higher administrative court issued a temporary injunction against further logging, overturning a lower court ruling that had rejected a request by environmental group Gruene Liga Brandenburg. The court said it will make a final decision on the complaint in the coming days.

Tesla and the government of Brandenburg, where the plant is, have until midday Tuesday to respond to the court and will meet that deadline, Joerg Steinbach, Brandenburg’s economy minister, said on Twitter, adding that they will then “rely on the prompt decision” by the court.

If Tesla doesn’t clear the trees by mid-March before the wildlife breeding period, construction could be delayed by six to nine months, local officials have warned. They’ve argued the site is an “inferior” pine forest that was planted to be harvested in the first place. Gruene Liga Brandenburg didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The injunction threatens Tesla’s ambitious timetable of having the plant up and running from mid-2021. If it does clear Germany’s red tape, the site could churn out as many as 500,000 cars a year, employ 12,000 people and pose a serious challenge to Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG and BMW AG. Musk recently tried to ease local concerns about water usage for the plant, which would border a nature reserve.


The factory will be designed with “sustainability and the environment in mind,” Musk said last month on Twitter, adding Tesla will plant three new trees for every tree cut.

Workers have already scoured the equivalent of about 150 soccer fields of forest and removed most of the errant World War II ammunition found there. Logging started last week after Brandenburg’s environment ministry granted Tesla preliminary approval to begin works.

The project’s environmental stipulations include scaring off or relocating wolves, bats, snakes and lizards until construction is over. Under German regulations, the project in the small town of Gruenheide must consider the breeding period for local wildlife in spring.