The factory looks like a spaceship that has landed in the midst of greenery. It’s been a year since Tesla opened its e-car factory in the Grünheide forest, a good 30 kilometers from the center of Berlin. Today, Tesla is Brandenburg’s largest industrial employer with around 10,000 employees – the company has almost reached its goal of the first expansion stage of 12,000 employees. But production is only ramping up.

Over 500 robots help in the factory, including “King Kong”: The large machine lifts the body onto a conveyor belt. More than 4,000 cars roll off the assembly line every week – around 200,000 vehicles a year. The target of the first expansion stage of 500,000 cars per year has not yet been halfway reached. However, Tesla boss Elon Musk has more plans.

Musk is already looking to the future: no fewer than a million cars a year are to be manufactured in Brandenburg. The first application for the expansion of production has already been submitted to the state of Brandenburg, further applications – for example for additional buildings – are to follow. The battery factory in Grünheide has so far only delivered, the focus is initially on the USA due to the high level of funding. The Tesla boss also needs enough workers to expand the car plant.

According to the Frankfurt (Oder) employment agency, Tesla is having increasing problems finding employees. We are looking for maintenance workers, electricians, machine and system operators, shift supervisors and foremen. “We placed a good 1,400 unemployed people with Tesla,” says agency boss Jochem Freyer. “About half were previously long-term unemployed and received benefits from the job center.”

In just over two years, Tesla built up its plant – called the Gigafactory – pending approval from the state of Brandenburg. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) could speak of the “new Germany pace” – as at the liquid gas terminal in Wilhelmshaven. With its tight schedule, the company creates pressure within the auto industry, but is also the focus of criticism.

IG Metall is concerned about working conditions. The high speed should not be at the expense of the employees, warns IG Metall district manager Irene Schulz. The list of shortcomings is long: the wages at Tesla are on average around 10 to 15 percent below the tariff. Stressful shift systems, frequent overtime at weekends and a high workload due to a lack of staff and many absences due to illness also caused resentment. Tesla is not doing enough to improve working conditions. The company rejects criticism. Tesla adheres to the law, the company rules are coordinated in close cooperation with the works council.

According to environmental groups, Gigafactory, protected areas and groundwater collide. Since Musk announced his plans, they have feared risks because part of the factory site is in a water protection area. According to the Brandenburg Green League, the industrial company handles dangerous and water-polluting substances “at its discretion”. The association sees it as particularly explosive that for three years there has been no clarity as to whether the industrial plant falls under the Ordinance on Major Accidents.

Environmentalists protested at a Tesla store in Berlin-Mitte on Tuesday against the water consumption of the Grünheide factory. They threw paint on the store’s facade and pasted posters.

The water is a major point of contention in comparatively dry Brandenburg. The company successfully appealed against the requirement that the local water association Strausberg-Erkner must be involved in all groundwater-related issues. This is controversial, but the authorities in Brandenburg assure that there are enough controls. After several incidents without permission – such as driving in piles – Tesla has agreed to pay more attention to this.

Tesla needs more water and electricity for the expansion. Brandenburg’s Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke (SPD) has promised Musk in a letter that he will find a suitable solution to the problems with the water and electricity supply before the summer. The nature conservation association Nabu, the green league and the association for nature and landscape reacted with great incomprehension. Approval for the increased water volumes requested by the water association is still pending due to a lawsuit by the associations.

Economics Minister Jörg Steinbach (SPD), who recently visited Tesla’s plant in Austin (Texas/USA), emphasizes: “It’s not about having all problems solved by the summer, but about helping investors to create reliable schedules in a timely manner for the solution of pending tasks.” From his point of view, Tesla is a driving force for other investors: “We are still feeling the pull of the settlement inquiries.”

The Greens see the project as an opportunity, but warn of risks. The settlement of Tesla only put Brandenburg on the screen of international investors, says Green Party leader Benjamin Raschke. But: “The debate about water consumption has also shown us how limited natural resources are, especially in view of the climate crisis.”

Tesla has promised that no new fresh water will be needed for further expansion. The company wants to completely recycle the waste water from production. This would keep the contractual maximum amount of 1.4 million cubic meters of water. And when it comes to water, Tesla is exploring other deposits itself.

The carmaker also wants to become more transparent: The cornerstones of further plans should be in the applications for the expansion. Further information events for interested parties are planned. However, it is still unclear whether there will be factory tours for the general public to see “King Kong” among other things.

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