The hearings for Gigafactory Berlin’s opposition have begun, and things are off to a rather rocky start. About an hour after the meeting began on Wednesday, the proceedings were interrupted due to a petition alleging that officials have a pervading pro-Tesla bias.
Earlier this month, Ulrich Stock, the head of the technical environmental protection department in the State Environment Agency, noted that he does not see any fundamental obstacles to Giga Berlin’s final approval. “As things stand, we cannot identify any fundamental obstacles to approval, not even based on the objections submitted,” he remarked. Stock currently leads the meetings on Giga Berlin’s opposition.
According to Uwe Hiksch, the deputy head of the Friends of Nature Berlin, Stock’s previous comments suggests that the official was already set on a decision about Tesla’s factory. In his petition on Wednesday, Hiksch called for Stock to be replaced. Jurist André Zschiegner from the State Environment Agency countered this allegation, however, stating that there was no bias on the meeting leader’s part. “Dr. Stock’s statement must always be seen in the overall context of the proceedings,” he said.
The overall mood of the hearing was heated. In a statement to public broadcaster rbb24, Stock remarked that issues emerged about the meeting’s recording. Tesla had reportedly hired an entity to take the minutes of the hearing, and this aggravated the company’s critics. A lawyer present at the event who thought that the setup was questionable even proceeded to threaten to interrupt the hearing. There were loud boos from critics and loud applause from supporters of the project as well, which was quite rare in Brandenburg.
Stock, for his part, responded with calm to the turbulence. In a statement following the turbulent hearing, he noted that “if it helps decision-making, then that’s the way it should be.”
Later during the day, the discussions shifted to the provisional building permits that Tesla has acquired. The electric car maker has secured provisional permits for sections of Giga Berlin, and the company has proceeded to start the construction of parts of its electric car factory. This upset the project’s opposition, with critics asking for guarantees that the structures would indeed be dismantled if no final permits are secured.
Representatives from Tesla and the State Environment Agency assured critics that agreements are in place for such a scenario.
There are a total of 406 objections that have been raised about Gigafactory Berlin, with the most controversial ones being related to Tesla’s water use, tree-clearing activities, and use of piles in its construction process. Tesla has responded to some of these criticisms by reducing its planned water consumption and using fewer piles on its buildout site. Opposition is also abounding about the fact that Tesla had carried on with Giga Berlin’s construction even before final permits were secured.
The Gigafactory Berlin opposition hearings are expected to continue for several days, with the State Environment Agency booking the hearing’s location until Friday. That being said, officials have stated that the meetings could be extended until next week if needed.