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Our investigation reveals behind the scenes of this record sale, financed 100% by a government loan. It sheds new light on the controversy over changes to environmental rules.

Northvolt: here is behind the scenes of the record purchase of the land | The battery sector

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Part of the land sold to Northvolt. Inset: Luc Poirier, shareholder of QMC2, owner of the land.

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How could land purchased for $20 million in 2015 be resold for $240 million in 2023? This is the question that everyone has been asking since the Swedish company Northvolt acquired it with a $240 million loan from the Quebec government. Thanks to several sources in the file, Radio-Canada learned that Quebec and Northvolt incorrectly estimated the cost of the land and underestimated the negotiating power of investor Luc Poirier.

It all starts in September 2022, almost a year to the day before the announcement of the biggest manufacturing project in the history of Quebec. Investissement Québec presents to the Swedish battery manufacturer the owner of a gigantic space as large as 120 football fields (171 hectares), straddling McMasterville and Saint-Basile-le-Grand.

The land belongs to the company QMC2, one of whose most prominent shareholders is Luc Poirier, a well-known investor from the South Shore of Montreal. At that time, he wanted to develop a residential project of more than 4,000 housing units on the site.

The matchmaker was Simon Thibault, then director of the battery sector at Investissement Québec. At the time, one of his mandates at the state-owned company was to act as a facilitator for Northvolt.

The vast terrain, seen from the air.

The battery industry

Consult the complete file

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The battery sector

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In September 2022, Mr. Thibault shared his estimate with the Swedish company. According to him, it will have to pay at least $150 million to buy this land from Luc Poirier and his associates.

Northvolt then prepares its budget and plans an amount of $165 million for the transaction. The necessary money will be lent to her by the government, but she will have to repay it.

The Swedish company then retained the services of a brokerage firm, CBRE. The latter does not agree with Investissement Québec's estimate and encourages Northvolt to offer much more money to the owner, because, according to its analysis, the sale price of industrial land doubled between 2020 and 2022 on the South Shore of Montreal.

Buyers didn't know it at that time, but Luc Poirier had the market value of his land assessed at $85 million in July 2020. A Hexagone Evaluation report, obtained by Radio-Canada, estimated that this was the most likely honest price.

The purchasing process will take place after February 6, 2023, following a lunch between Northvolt co-founder Paolo Cerruti and the Minister of Economy, Innovation and of Énergie du Québec, Pierre Fitzgibbon, at the chic Osco restaurant in Montreal.

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Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon

On February 15, Northvolt follows the advice from his broker and made an offer of $220 million to Luc Poirier.

Seven days later, on February 22, the government of Quebec tabled a proposed amendment to an environmental regulation which will have the effect of preventing the battery manufacturing project from being examined by the Bureau d'public hearings on the #x27;environment (BAPE).

Pierre Fitzgibbon's cabinet ensures that the subject of BAPE was not discussed during the minister's lunch with Paolo Cerruti.

In February, I didn't even know what the regulations were, says the CEO of Northvolt, in response to a question from Radio-Canada.

The 7 March, the Quebec Ministry of the Environment refuses Luc Poirier and QMC2 their request for authorization to destroy wetlands on the land (New window). The real estate project is then compromised. Under these conditions, Luc Poirier intends to find a new way to make his initial investment profitable.

Well aware that Northvolt and the government will not easily find another land of this size for their battery factory project, he makes a counter-proposal, on March 27, at $300 million.

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Plan of the residential project initially envisaged by Luc Poirier.

On March 24, the Swedish company registered a mandate in the register of lobbyists in Quebec, to, among other things, convince the Legault government to; identify potential commercial and regulatory supports.

With the rejection of the QMC2 project by the Ministry of the Environment, Northvolt realizes that the quantity of wetlands present on the site constitutes a risk. In addition, the land is partly contaminated.

On the advice of its broker, the Swedish company made a new offer on April 5 at $150 million, much less money than what it had initially offered.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Luc Poirier does not let himself be impressed and makes a counter-offer of 253 million at the end of April.

Northvolt then offers 192 million, but nothing happens. Luc Poirier takes the hard line: his latest price is $253 million.

In May 2023, fearing not being able to carry out its project on the land it coveted, the Swedish company began visiting other sites: Montreal-East, Bromont, Baie-Comeau and Saguenay. But they are either too small, too expensive, or poorly adapted.

There is no longer any doubt for Northvolt and the government of Quebec: only the land in McMasterville and Saint-Basile-le-Grand is suitable. We will have to go back and negotiate with Luc Poirier.

On May 17, Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon met with the management of the Swedish company to consider the next steps.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">Northvolt returns to knock on QMC2's door on May 30, but the owner remains adamant: its final price is $253 million.

On May 31, Quebec Minister of the Environment, Benoit Charette, meets with representatives of Northvolt. This meeting does not appear on his public agenda.

It was Luc Poirier who unblocked the negotiations in June. If the Swedish company pays him quickly, he agrees to lower his price to $240 million.

The deal was concluded at the end of June, and the sale was made official on October 31. Luc Poirier celebrates the biggest transaction of [his] life.

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Publication by Luc Poirier for congratulate the sale on November 1st.

Did Northvolt pay the right price with the money lent by Quebecers? Was she well advised by Investissement Québec? The state company told us that it is up to the company to evaluate potential sites and take steps to acquire land.

We will not comment on the value of the land or the price of the transaction: this is a private commercial decision, responds Investissement Québec spokesperson Isabelle Fontaine.

I don't think we paid too much for the land, responds, for his part, the CEO of Northvolt North America, Paolo Cerruti.

We probably paid a fair price. Is it a low price? No, it's not a low price.

A quote from Paolo Cerruti, CEO of Northvolt North America

Northvolt declined to comment further on the negotiation process leading to the purchase.

On the property assessment roll of the municipalities of McMasterville and Saint-Basile-le-Grand, the land is valued at just over 11 million dollars, but the role does not reflect the market value.

Radio-Canada asked the Swedish company if it did business with a certified appraiser to objectively estimate the value of the land it coveted. Northvolt responds: We were supported by CBRE, a real estate brokerage firm specializing in commercial and industrial sites.

This response startles accredited appraiser Christian-Pierre Côté, partner at Côté Mercier Conseilimmobilier. The broker is remunerated for his work based on the results he will obtain, he recalls, so he could have an interest in the sale being made at a high price.

On the contrary, an approved appraiser does not receive a percentage of the transaction and is an independent and impartial actor, whose work is supervised by a professional order.

They did not use an independent party to determine whether the price paid had meaning or not, as required by good practices, […] if only for the sake of transparency.

A quote from Christian-Pierre Côté, approved appraiser, partner at Côté Mercier Real estate advice

The expert is also surprised by the short time it took to conclude a transaction for such a large amount: This is not usual.

The broker CBRE did not respond to our questions.

Contacted by Radio-Canada, Luc Poirier first declined our interview request, then answered a few questions in writing.

He is not surprised that the value of his large piece of land tripled between the assessment of $85 million in the summer of 2020 and its sale for $240 million this fall. Since COVID-19, there has been an explosion in warehousing demands [Amazon and others] and big companies no longer want just in time for their production, [they want stocks], he explains.

On Facebook, he assures that he did not need any lobbying or political connections to achieve this record sale, the highest for industrial land in the Montreal region.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">This land would be worth at least $400 million if it had been purchased to build residential units, calculates Luc Poirier, but he does not regret it. x27;have given up less, because he will be able to use the money for a shorter-term project.

In order to optimize this land [for the residential project], it would have taken three or four more years, and after that, it would have been necessary to build for a minimum of 15 years.

A quote from Luc Poirier

By accepting an offer to the half of its value, I participated, in a certain way, in the ecological transition through the development of the battery sector, writes the investor.

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