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Tesla holds ‘Giga Fest’ at disputed German e-car factory

With a big wheel, music and an appearance by CEO Elon Musk, Tesla is pulling out all the stops Saturday to win over opponents of the electric carmaker's controversial new "gigafactory" near Berlin.

Tesla holds 'Giga Fest' at disputed German e-car factory
Elon Musk visits the Tesla factory in Grünheide in May 2021. Photo: dpa | Christophe Gateau

Construction had begun under an exceptional procedure granted by authorities two years ago, but opposition from locals over environmental concerns has held up final approval for the plant.

Some local residents have planned a counter-protest at the site on the day of the event to underline their opposition to the factory.

Musk will personally drop by at the “Giga Fest”, where the company has laid on a big wheel, electronic music and vegetarian food trucks — an event conceived in the image of Berlin, Europe’s party capital.

Thousands are expected to attend, with locals given priority for the guest list announced by Tesla earlier this week.

Devotees of the brand shared their excitement ahead of the day on social media. “Gigafest here we come. Thrilled to see what they have built in my hometown,” tweeted one.

The project’s opponents are planning another form of welcome. “Let’s take to the streets against this environmental devastation pushed by politicians,” is the call made by protest organisers.

Environmental concerns

Tesla began construction at the site in Gruenheide in 2019 after receiving preliminary approval under a special procedure.

But local authorities are still in the process of evaluating the environmental impact of the factory, despite construction being all but done.

The special treatment afforded to the company angered some residents, who are concerned about the impact the plant could have on the water supply and biodiversity.

Supported by NGOs, opponents have sent letters, held protests and gone to court to try and stop the project.

“Tesla has to follow the same procedures as other companies,” the Green League campaign group said recently.

Last year, work at the Tesla site was temporarily stopped after NGOs requested an injunction to protect the nearby natural habitat of endangered species of lizards and snakes while they were in their winter slumber.

A residents’ consultation, part of the approval process, is due to close on October 14.

Until the survey is completed, final approval cannot be given and production at the factory will not be allowed to begin.

Even then, the state environment ministry in Brandenburg, where the plant is located, told AFP “no date has been fixed” for this authorisation.

Despite local resistance, construction has been completed in double-quick time, replacing a swathe of pine forest with an enormous concrete-paved expanse accessed via “Tesla Road”.

Economies of scale

About 500,000 cars a year should roll off the line at the factory just outside Berlin, Tesla’s first production location in Europe.

On the same 300-hectare plot, Musk also plans to build “the world’s biggest battery factory”.

The site will equally boast the “world’s largest die-casting machine”, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the Center for Automotive Research in Germany.

The custom-built equipment should allow Tesla to “significantly reduce production costs”, Dudenhoeffer said.

In the event that the factory is not approved, the carmaker will be compelled to dismantle the entire works at its own cost.

SEE ALSO: Is Germany’s Volkswagen becoming ‘the new Tesla’ as it ramps up e-vehicle production?

Such a turn of events is, however, “unlikely”, said Dudenhoeffer, since the project has considerable “political support”.

“Every political party is in favour,” the car expert explained, while noting that changes to the factory facade could be requested by authorities, delaying the beginning of production further.

First planned for July 2021, the start has already been pushed back to the end of this year as a result of the company’s administrative troubles.

Tesla was “irritated” by these setbacks, as it wrote in an open letter in March, in which the company called for a “reform” of Germany’s planning procedures.

Despite the country’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often slowed down by excess bureaucracy.

Berlin’s new international airport opened in October 2020 eight years later than first planned, while the construction of a new train station in Stuttgart is not yet finished, having begun in 2010.

READ MORE: ‘Help shape the future’ – Tesla advertises over 300 jobs for new Gigafactory near Berlin

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishjments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Driving is a great way to enjoy scenic European roads. Pictured is a highway in Norway (Photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash)

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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