Tesla to search for water in quest to expand German gigafactory

Tesla to search for water in quest to expand German gigafactory
A general view shows the Tesla logo on the Gigafactory in Gruenheide near Berlin, Germany, August 30, 2022. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File Photo

By Victoria Waldersee

BERLIN (Reuters) – Tesla plans to drill for new water sources to supply an expansion of its electric vehicle plant near Berlin, according to local authorities and water associations, the latest move by the carmaker to jump-start German bureaucracy.

After the factory’s launch in March was almost waylaid by opposition from environmental groups over its water use, Tesla is taking matters into its own hands as it prepares to double the capacity of the plant in Gruenheide, Brandenburg, from 500,000 to over a million cars per year, pending approval from local authorities.

At a municipal council meeting last week, a Tesla representative said the company would pay for exploratory drilling to update a decades-old public database of groundwater sources, according to Gruenheide mayor Arne Christiani, who attended the meeting.

A local environmental ministry spokesperson said Tesla was in touch with local authorities but an application had not yet been filed.

“We’ve got nothing against it,” Christiani told Reuters, while pointing out it was unusual for a private company to run such tests instead of local authorities.

If the carmaker finds new water sources, it must still apply for the licence to use them, a spokesperson for the local environmental ministry said.

Still, some local politicians and environmental groups fear the move sets a precedent of private firms taking charge of public data, worrying that Tesla will argue for priority access to any new water sources it may find.

“We know this company. It does what it wants, and it’ll do the same with the water it finds,” said Michael Ganschow, head of local environmental organisation Gruene Liga.

“Water is a public good, and exploration is a public task … this is a red line,” the district administrator of neighbouring region Maerkish-Oderland, told local newspaper Tagesspiegel.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

The U.S. carmaker has sparked admiration from some and scorn from others for breaking convention in Germany from the get-go, paying upfront to build its plant before all licences were secured – a move that was not illegal but unusual in the risk-averse German business landscape.

Still, even if Tesla gets approval for exploratory drilling, multiple steps remain, including laying the pipes from new wells to the plant.

“That could take a very long time,” said Joachim Schroeder, representative of Spreenhagen, one of the areas Tesla wants to explore – “unless Tesla takes over, of course, and does it at Tesla-speed.”