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Northvolt CEO says company is moving forward in Quebec, 'surprised' by pushback

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Northvolt said it's moving forward as it presented the next steps for building its mega-battery plant on the South Shore of Montreal Wednesday.

Six months after announcing a $7 billion investment to build its battery cell plant, the company's co-founder Paolo Cerruti met with journalists Wednesday.

He said he didn't expect the pushback to the project.

"Yes, I was surprised. Being singled out as not participating in a responsible way in an environmental debate was, for us, quite shocking," he said.

Since the project was announced, environmental groups and local residents have criticized it — the site was even vandalized over the removal of trees.

"Arriving here, maybe too naive, [we] did not expect this to happen," he said.

Northvolt co-founder Paolo Cerruti (CTV News)

Now, up to 450 trucks per day will move along local roads and more trees will be cut down for a total of 14,000.

Last week, the Quebec government sanctioned the company for filling in a wetland.

Environmental groups say it's hurting threatened species like the Least bittern and argue Northvolt is not keeping the public advised.

"They are cutting trees. There are endangered species on the ground. They are filling wetlands. All of this is done behind closed doors," said Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace. "We don't have those details, so they shouldn't be surprised."

Northvolt says it needs more than a dozen permits approved to keep going forward. That comes after reports that the land in McMasterville, where part of the plant is located, still isn't zoned for industrial use.

"We're taking a risk by deploying billions of dollars upstream of the project without the certainty of having all the permits lined up at the end," said Cerruti, and "if we're taking this risk, it's because we're aware that the technology we're deploying will enable us to get all the necessary authorizations."

"The mayor of McMasterville has been public on the fact that they're doing what they're allowed to do. It's a process which takes three to six months to [sort through] so I'm pretty comfortable with the process going on right now," said Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon.

Part of the plant that processes recycling will be required to undergo an environmental assessment, though other facilities won't.

Greenpeace is pushing for an independent assessment, especially as a planned intake and discharge into the Richelieu River has yet to be approved.

Even with all the controversies, Northvolt said it's not second-guessing building in Quebec and said it's not going anywhere.

"Power, access to natural resources, great talent," said Cerruti. "We are committed to Quebec long term."

Construction is expected to start in the coming months and production to begin in 2026.

With files from The Canadian Press

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