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Germany: Sabotage case launched against Tesla protesters

March 7, 2024

A far-left group claimed responsibility for attacking the power grid connected to Tesla's Gigafactory near Berlin. An electricity pylon was the target of arson, turning the lights off for thousands of local households.

A police vehicle parked outside of Tesla's facility in Berlin-Brandenburg
German officials, such as Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, have urged a tough response after the attack on Tesla's power supplyImage: Lutz Deckwerth/dpa/picture alliance

The public prosecutor's office in the eastern German city of Frankfurt an der Oder has opened a probe into a recent attack on the power grid supplying energy to Tesla's Gigafactory in the Berlin-Brandenburg area by environmental activists camped out near the site.

Office spokesperson Carola Ochs told German news outlet DPA on Thursday that investigations were moving forward after the incident in "all directions" and that it involved the criminal offense of sabotage of infrastructure causing harm to the community.

Close up of a power pylon near the Tesla factory in Grünheide, Germany, with apparent signs of attempted sabotage. Image from March 6, 2024.
Activists are thought to have targeted the local power supplier, also affecting other residences and facilities in the areaImage: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture alliance

An electricity pylon in Brandenburg exhibited scorch marks after the attack, with the probe also based on the charges of disturbing public works and arson.

The ensuing power outage temporarily cut electricity for thousands of households in several districts of Berlin.

It's likely to halt Tesla's operations until the end of next week, much longer than originally thought, the company said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Arson attack shuts down Tesla's German plant

Ochs said that Germany's federal public prosecutor was also informed about the case and would have the right to take over the investigation if it wanted to or saw the need.

The far-left extremist "Volcano Group" said it attacked the power grid. However, the exact identities of the perpetrators are still unclear.  

A damaged power pylon near the Tesla factory in Grünheide, Germany. Engineers and other vehicles and equipment are also visible in the shot. Pictured March 6, 2024.
Tesla said late on Wednesday that its factory could be out of action until the end of next weekImage: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture alliance

Faeser: A 'serious arson attack' which disrupted hospital operations

In separate remarks to dpa, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said the "suspected left-wing extremist action" was a "serious arson attack."

She noted that thousands of residents in the greater Berlin area were left without electricity, and power cuts impacted hospitals and medical operations carried out by doctors.

"We must have a tough response," she said while urging the public prosecutor's office to take action and impose "severe penalties." 

The "Volcano Group" claimed the attack was a response to Tesla's treatment of workers and the environment. The Tesla factory in Grünheide intends to expand, drawing concerns from environmental activists that this will threaten the area's forests and water supply. 

A report on Thursday by Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel said that Tesla  had consumed 451,654 cubic metres of water over the past year, well under the amount agreed with the local water authority. 

Treehouses in a forest near the Tesla factory in Grünheide, Germany, where activists are camping out. A large sign in the foreground says "water is a human right!"
The activists say they're protesting the risks to forests and water protection areas near the large Tesla factoryImage: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture alliance

Tesla plant manager Andre Thierig estimated that the outage meant more than 1,000 cars per day would not be built until production was back up and running.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote on his social platform X that the suspected arson on the plant's power source was "extremely dumb." Sabotaging the power grid is expected to cost the company hundreds of millions of euros. 

The Tesla Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg first began operations in March 2022 and now has around 12,500 employees.  

A customer surveys empty shelves at the Schöneberg Edeka supermarket in Berlin after the Volcano Group attack, which had an impact on a nearby warehouse.
The fire on the electricity pylon even impacted local supermarketsImage: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Tesla factory in Germany was capable of producing 750 cars per day. We have also added teh context of the current water usage by Tesla in Berlin.

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wd/msh (dpa, AFP) 

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