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Quebec judge rejects injunction to stop work on Northvolt EV battery plant

Northvolt is expected to resume work on an electric vehicle battery plant east of Montreal after an injunction request by an environmental group was rejected in Quebec Superior Court Friday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Northvolt is expected to resume work on an electric vehicle battery plant east of Montreal after an injunction request by an environmental group was rejected in Quebec Superior Court Friday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

A Quebec Superior Court judge has rejected an environmental group's request for an injunction to stop work at the site of the future Northvolt plant, a massive, multi-billion-dollar EV battery installation east of Montreal.

Work had recently begun but was halted when the Centre québécois du droit de l'environnement (CQDE), filed the injunction request in mid-January, calling for the work to stop. Three citizens were also part of the court challenge.

They argued the permits and authorizations to proceed with the plant were unreasonable and failed to fully protect wetlands and species at risk.

Northvolt told the court stopping the work even temporarily would be fatal for the company and put the whole project at risk.

In his decision published Friday afternoon, Justice David Collier said the CQDE had failed to "put forward serious arguments allowing us to doubt, at first glance, the validity of the ministerial authorization and the municipal permit" that provided legal backing to Northvolt's activities on the plot of land.

The judge acknowledged the destructive nature of the plant's construction on wetlands but said the company had taken steps to make up for it, such as a $4.7-million investment in restoring other wetlands, as well as a commitment to planting 24,000 trees for the 8,730 living trees it would be cutting at the site and the removal of 5,365 dead ones.

Northvolt, a Swedish company and a giant in the field of electric vehicle batteries, suspended work on the construction site after the injunction request was filed "out of respect for the ongoing legal process."

The plant would be located on the border of Saint-Basile-le-Grand and McMasterville, about 30 kilometres east of Montreal.

Shortly after Collier's decision was published, Northvolt said it would resume work at the site Friday afternoon.

The company said that in order to obtain permits from the Environment Ministry and the City of St-Basile-le-Grand, it "had to rigorously and seriously demonstrate that our project complied with environmental regulations."

"Serious studies and analyses were carried out and many strict conditions were met to obtain these permits," Northvolt said in a statement.

As part of the construction work, Northvolt began felling trees at the site in early January, after receiving approval from Quebec's Environment Ministry.

The CQDE also reacted to the decision Friday afternoon, saying it remains concerned about how destructive the Northvolt project will be.

Marc Bishai, a laywer with the group, said in an interview that he and his colleagues are looking into what other legal recourse they may have to pause the project.

"The more decisions are made democratically and with a lot of transparency, the less these types of debates need to be settled by the courts," Bishai said.

Lawyers for the CQDE argued that the Environment Ministry had recently gotten in the way of another project in that area due to the potential damage it would cause to wetlands. They said the ministry seemed to be applying a different standard for Northvolt.

Last September, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier François Legault participated in a news conference announcing the project.

Trudeau called the project "historic and transformative."