Tesla's vehicles may be of the zero-emission variety, but, like all cars, their production can have an impact on the environment.
Tesla announced last November it would build its first European car factory in Grünheide, in the eastern state of Brandenburg.
Despite support from the municipality's mayor, the German government, industry groups, and some locals, a group of concerned residents have formed a group called Citizens’ Initiative Grünheide Against Gigafactory.
This month, the group held a protest which approximately 250 people attended, carrying signs with slogans like “Tesla or drinking water?”
Led by resident Frank Gersdorf, the group is rallying against the construction as it’ll require the clearing of 300 hectares of forest area teeming with wildlife, including an endangered species of bat.
Said Gersdorf, “In such an ecological system like the one here and with the background that climate is changing, I cannot understand why another location was not selected from the beginning.”
Another activist, Anne Bach, said the factory would need more than 300 cubic metres of water per hour, draining the area’s declining reserves.
According to Reuters, the protest followed word from a Brandenburg water association that the Gigafactory could lead to “extensive and serious problems with the drinking water supply and wastewater disposal”.
Sounds like we need to clear up a few things! Tesla won’t use this much net water on a daily basis. It’s possibly a rare peak usage case, but not an everyday event. Also, this is not a natural forest — it was planted for use as cardboard & only a small part will be used for GF4.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 25, 2020
In response, Elon Musk tweeted the water figures being shared are "possibly a rare peak usage case" – water usage will instead be 238 cubic metres per hour.
He also noted the forest being razed isn't a natural forest and that the company will plant three trees for each tree cut down.
At the recent protest, those arguing against the factory were met with counter-protesters arguing in its favour. A much smaller group of around a couple-dozen residents who support the Gigafactory’s construction showed up, chanting, “We are here, we are loud, because Tesla is building our future.”
The new factory is expected to bring around 10,000 new jobs to the area, located just 33km from Berlin.
Construction is scheduled to start this year with the first vehicles rolling off the new production line by late 2021.
Having burnished an eco-friendly image, these environmental protests are relatively uncharted territory for Tesla.
Of its two US Gigafactories, one was built in the desert, the other on disused brownfield land.
Tesla’s first factory was already standing, having been built and run by a General Motors-Toyota joint venture.