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Germany: Far-left group claims act of sabotage on Tesla

March 5, 2024

The Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin was evacuated after a power outage, with the far-left "Volcano Group" claiming responsibility for the sabotage. Thousands of homes lost power during the incident.

Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin
Tesla has faced criticism concerning its plans to expand its 300-hectare factory site in GrünheideImage: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture alliance

The Tesla Gigafactory in Grünheide near Berlin was evacuated on Tuesday after a major power outage.

The left-wing extremist "Volcano Group" said it had carried out the assault on the power grid supplying the carmaker.

"We sabotaged Tesla today," a letter from the Volcano Group said, specifying an "attack on the electricity supply."

Later on Tuesday, police said they were aware of the letter the Volcano Group and that they were checking its authenticity, which would take several days.

Police had earlier said they were investigating an initial suspicion of arson after an electricity pylon caught fire.

The state of Brandenburg's Interior Minister Michael Stübgen (CDU) spoke of a "perfidious attack" on the electricity infrastructure. Unknown people had set fire to the high-voltage pylon between Steinfurt and Hartmannsdorf early on Tuesday morning, the ministry said.

Arson attack shuts down Tesla's German plant

What did Elon Musk say?

Environmental activists protesting against the expansion of the factory last week said they planned to occupy the nearby forest for a week. The facility is the only factory run by billionaire Elon Musk's electric vehicle company in Europe.

"These are either the dumbest eco-terrorists in the world or they are puppets of those who don't have good environmental goals," Musk wrote on social media platform X, which he owns.

"Stopping production of electric vehicles, rather than fossil fuel vehicles, ist extrem dumm," the Tesla boss wrote using the German for "is extremely stupid."

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck responded to the incident saying: "The attack on the power supply is an attack on our critical infrastructure. This must now be investigated and punished quickly. Violence and sabotage must not be a means of conflict."

Operator Stromnetz Berlin, meanwhile, said there were also outages in the Berlin districts of Müggelheim, Rahnsdorf, and parts of Neukölln. Some 2,000 households are affected.

How new Gigafactories are staining Tesla's brand

Quick return of power not expected

Tesla said all measures had been taken to secure the production facilities but that, after consultation with the electricity provider EDIS, the company did not expect production to restart quickly.

The fire brigade was called at around 5:15 a.m. (0415 GMT/UTC) and began extinguishing the fire at the pylon. A police helicopter was deployed after the alarm was raised.

A police spokesperson earlier said they could not comment on a report in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper that the fire had been started by activists.

The spokesperson added that bomb disposal units were called in after emergency services found a sign saying "ordnance buried here." Firefighters were said to be extinguishing the blaze in a field.

Police had initially said they were "investigating in all directions" about the possible cause.

What are Tesla's plans for the site?

The automaker aims to expand its plant, which has a capacity of around 500,000 cars a year. The plan hit a roadblock when local residents voted against a motion to chop down trees to make way for it.

Tesla wants to double the site's capacity to 100 gigawatt hours of battery production and a million cars per year, allowing it to take a leading role in the European market.

The facility has had problems even before its opening in 2022. Locals and water authorities were concerned over the amount of water needed as well as the speed with which construction progressed.

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. The company says it recycles "up to 100% of its industrial water," according to Tesla manager Rohan Patel. 

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Update: On March 8, we included figures since released on the amount of water consumption at the Tesla plant.

jsi, rc/ab (dpa, Reuters)

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