Germany: Water supply brings Tesla in dire straits

The Tesla Factory in Grünheide in Brandenburg.
The water license of the Tesla factory near Berlin is being challenged by environmentalists. Photo: Michael Wolf, Wikimedia Commons.

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The licence of the water supply contract of the mega-factory of the American car producer Tesla near Berlin is under fire. Environmental groups are challenging the licence granted by the utility Wasserverband Strausberg-Erkner at a court hearing on 4 March. If the court agrees with the environmental groups the water supplier could be forced to cancel the contract.

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. But the final approval of the responsible authorities to start the production is still missing.

Insufficient checks

The Frankfurt Oder administrative court will hear on the 4th of March a complaint filed by local groups claiming the Brandenburg environmental ministry carried out insufficient checks before granting the licence to the Wasserverband Strausberg-Erkner. A decision in favour of the environmentalists would likely delay the plant’s opening or it might even cancel the whole operation.

Drought

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 declares 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 and is now waiting for licences to start producing.  

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