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Feds, Quebec set to make major EV battery production announcement Thursday

The site of a former explosives manufacturing plant in Quebec could soon be home to a key player in Canada's energy transition.

The governments of Quebec and Canada are set to make a major announcement about the electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing supply chain, and rumours have been swirling for weeks a Swedish battery developer and manufacturer could be setting up shop in McMasterville, which is about 30km from Montreal.

The news is not official, but some residents worry the plant could bring noise, odors and traffic. More than 700 people have signed a petition and brought their concerns to city hall earlier this month.

To understand what lays ahead, McMasterville residents can to look to the city of Becancour, Que., that is now at the heart of Canada's EV battery manufacturing strategy. It is a city nestled along the majestic Saint-Lawrence river, halfway between Quebec City and Montreal. It is a vast patch of mostly farmland, covering about 400 sq. km. And while its population is now 15,000, Becancour Mayor Lucie Allard is preparing for a major influx of newcomers.

"We are at the dawn of historic growth, with thousands of new jobs," she told CTV National News.

That has brought excitement, but also challenges and some concerns to Becancour.

Excavators and cranes have been running non-stop in the city's industrial park, creating a buzz since several big name investors, including GM and Ford, have come to town.

Governments have poured billions in taxpayer dollars to boost EV battery manufacturing, including a mega-project for Volkswagen in Saint-Thomas, Ont. This is part of a strategy, born in part from a post-COVID-19 realization that relying on countries like China, which now corners the market, may be risky.

"It is really a statement to say that we are creating the foundation of a competitive and very sustainable ecosystem and supply chain for the industry," Frederick Morency, president of the board of the Electrical Industry Association of Canada, told CTV National News.

Becancour has attracted a large share of investors in this EV battery manufacturing revolution, in part because of its industrial park, run by Donald Olivier.

"We have the lands, we have the infrastructure, so when investors come here they can start quickly," Olivier told CTV National News.

The park is one of the largest in Canada and is near shipping lanes, railways and major highways. That offers easy access to critical minerals mined in the Abitibi region of Quebec.

It was built in the 1960's, designed at the time to be a major steelmaking centre. But that mega-project was scrapped, and moved elsewhere. A number of other big projects announced for the industrial park never materialized. The park's turbulent history has led some in Becancour to doubt a new industry will be a boon for the region. But Olivier says those doubts are starting to fade as plants get built, and people realize this industry is the right fit.

There is another major reason electric battery manufacturers pick this area. Quebec has vast hydro-power resources, produced by dams build decades ago in the north.

"For Quebec, it is a big advantage, when investors come here they have green energy," Olivier said. "It is key when they decide to come here."

But those supplies may not be enough in the future, and developing other sources like wind and solar energy is also in the works.

"We need this industry to be sustainable," Morency said. "And we need Quebec and Canada to be leaders in this."

The city of Becancour is racing against the clock. The plants are aiming to be fully operational by 2026, and major changes have to be made.

It is hoping that among the thousands of new workers, many will choose to live in town. New roads have to be built, new neighborhoods are needed and infrastructure needs to be planned. There are six schools, and another one is already being built. Three others will likely have to be enlarged for families who settle in the area. There are also security concerns to address. The fire department has already received a new ladder truck, but new emergency measures plans have to be drafted.

When Allard was elected a year and a half ago, she had no idea her town would head down the EV battery production path. Growth, she hopes, could bring opportunity, including more sports facilities, more grocery stores and retail businesses.

The success of the transition for Becancour, will be gauged by how well changes played out for residents, says Allard. 


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