Tesla’s criticism of the approval process for his Gigafactory in Grünheide near Berlin is met with incomprehension by the Federal Government’s SME Commissioner, Thomas Bareiß (CDU). “I am currently not aware of any other project for which so much has been done at all levels to ensure rapid implementation as for the Tesla project,” Bareiß said Handelsblatt.
In a letter to the Berlin-Brandenburg Higher Administrative Court, Tesla had emphasized that his work was helping to combat climate change by spreading electromobility. However, 16 months after the application, there is still no schedule for final approval of the construction of his factory. The “most glaring problem” is that in procedures and laws, projects that fight climate change and those that accelerate it are treated equally. The US electric car manufacturer wants to start producing in Grünheide in the summer and ultimately produce 500,000 Model Ys per year. So far, the Gigafactory has only been built with provisional permits.
Brandenburg’s Economics Minister Jörg Steinbach (SPD) was open to a change in the law to give preference to investments that served security of supply. However, the Federal Ministry of Economics pointed out that eight laws had come into force in the current legislative period in order to accelerate planning and approvals.
Support from the German economy
The economist Michael Hüther, director of the Institute of German Economy, called for fast procedures for projects that are about decarbonising production and mobility. Arguments that are not irrelevant or groups that are not affected should impair the balancing of interests. Although this is being discussed in the federal and state levels, progress has been slow. This would hinder the achievement of climate policy goals.
Compared to the Handelsblatt Bareiß admittedthat the Tesla project shows an “ever greater conflict of interest” between species protection, environmental protection and climate protection that is difficult to resolve. Politicians and the level of approval must increasingly weigh and set priorities between “protecting the habitat of the bat or lizard and, on the other hand, adhering to our high climate protection goals”, said the Parliamentary State Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Especially in medium-sized companies, “approval processes are increasingly becoming an obstacle to investment,” added Bareiß. The approval times would have doubled within ten years. But “first important steps” have been taken with the new Investment Acceleration Act.
Tesla had expressed itself in proceedings by the German Environmental Aid (DUH) before the Berlin-Brandenburg Higher Administrative Court. The DUH wants to force the federal government through a court ruling to set up a program to achieve the 2030 climate protection target. DUH boss Jürgen Resch called Tesla’s letter “beneficial” because it gave momentum to the discussion on how to reduce over-bureaucratization without undermining civil society’s ability to participate.
Tesla submitted the first 1,500 pages of documents for the approval process on December 20, 2019. The plans were put out to the public twice as Tesla had made some changes in the meantime. As of September 3, 2020, objections were received from 414 people; such a number is usual in such proceedings, explains the state of Brandenburg.
Recently, concerns about the water supply in the affected area had risen again. An optimization of the system has already led to a significant reduction in water consumption compared to the original plan. These included heat pumps instead of a gas-powered central heating system and air instead of water cooling.
Tesla has so far submitted twelve applications for early start approval in order to be able to build the plant at your own risk before approval is granted. The State Office for the Environment has approved nine of these, Tesla withdrew one application, and two applications are currently being examined.
The regulation to allow an early start exists in all federal states; it is used by investors from a wide variety of industries. If there is no overall approval, the investor must restore or compensate for the original condition. Tesla has issued letters of comfort for this, as the work in Grünheide has progressed.