Germany: Judge declares water licence Tesla illegal

Tesla will start its production in a a protected drinking water area a socalled 'Wasserschutzgebiet'. Photo: Pixabay

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Just after the German authorities publicly announced (4 March) Tesla was allowed to start with the production of electric cars near Berlin, the Administrative Court in Frankfurt declared their water licence illegal. It means Tesla is now not permitted to withdraw extra water for its production site. According to the judge the water licence is illegal because the authorities failed to conduct an environmental impact assessment and public participation.

Environmental organisations want to prevent a shortage of drinking water in the area and are trying to stop extra water use through court. According to the environmentalists the state of Brandenburg failed to check the impact of climate change when approving a 30-year permit to pump more groundwater for Tesla’s factory. The US carmaker built its first European factory just outside Berlin in Grünheide in Brandenburg. Up to 500,000 electric cars a year are to be manufactured there.

Drought

Over the last years the region is suffering from falling groundwater levels and prolonged droughts due to climate change. Due to lower consumption in 2015 the area around Berlin had to cope with extraordinary high levels of ground water. But overall Brandenburg’s water table has been dropping for the past three decades.

Climate change

Brandenburg Economy Minister Joerg Steinbach states the current water supply is sufficient for the first stage of the factory, but when Tesla expands the site it we will need more water. Droughts in each of the past four years have resulted in wildfires and crop failures. Meteorologists are predicting more frequent heat waves, further weakening the ability of local soil to store rainfall.

Lack of water

Gruene Liga and Nabu fear the 1.4 million cubic metres of water a year Tesla needs for the plant will drain the region of drinking water. According to Irina Engelhardt, who heads the hydrogeology department at Berlin’s Technical University Tesla will increase the problem for sure. “There might not be enough water for everyone”, she declared earlier to Bloomberg.

Reduce water usage

Tesla flagged in its impact report last year that water is becoming increasingly scarce due to climate change. The company said it withdraws less water per vehicle produced than the majority of established carmakers and that it’s taking steps at the German plant to further reduce usage.

Market electric cars

Tesla’s director Elon Musk needs a manufacturing base in Europe to supply the fast-growing electric-vehicle market. The European market for electric cars is expected to become much bigger and more competitive than in the United States. The new plant in Grünheide has been built in only two years’ time.  

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