About 70 Michiganders are losing their jobs at a Viking Energy Biomass plant in Lincoln, and some are pointing to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for putting them out of work.

“By forcing a shift to renewable energy, Democrats are driving a green knife through Northeast Michigan,” said state Rep. Cam Cavitt, R-Cheboygan. “The governor might as well have fired these people herself because she is directly to blame for this shutdown. They failed to fix inflation. They failed to fix our energy grid. Now they’re spending all summer celebrating an energy package that’s putting my friends and neighbors out on the street.

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“This is about more than just energy production; it’s about people’s lives,” Cavitt said.

The plant in Lincoln, a village of about 305 in Alcona County, converted about 225,000 tons of wood per year to produce up to 18 megawatts of energy, or enough to power about 14,000 average homes. It supported about 71 jobs, with 21 full-time staff at the plant and another 50 involved in handling, processing, and transporting wood products.

Those employees were laid off when the plant officially shut down last week, taking with it about $4.5 million it spent on low value wood fiber, WBKB reports.

The closure follows a request to the Michigan Public Service Commission from Consumers Energy, the plant’s primary customer, to end its contract with Viking Energy and another 38-megawatt biomass plant in Cadillac. The commission denied the request to delay layoffs for plant employees, but the company opted to shut down anyway.

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Consumers spokesperson Brian Wheeler told Crain’s Grand Rapids Business in February that shifting to solar would cost about two-thirds less than purchasing biomass power.

“We take our responsibility to deliver reliable energy to Michigan homes and businesses seriously and are prepared to meet our customers’ energy needs with a variety of innovative solutions through our Clean Energy Plan,” Wheeler wrote in an email. “Meeting our aggressive reliability and affordability goals requires us to continue making purchasing decisions in alignment with our goal of keeping costs low for customers while making the investments necessary to build the grid of the future.”

The MPSC was skeptical of Consumers’ claim the move would save customers $40 million by shifting to wind and solar power, which the MPSC argued likely would not cover the lost energy production in Lincoln.

“People aren’t just losing their jobs; families are losing access to affordable and reliable energy. I’m not sure how Michigan will transfer to wind and solar energy on the governor’s radical timeline if energy producers keep abandoning our state,” Cavitt said. “We need alternative power sources like natural gas and biomass if we ever hope to have a sustainable and reliable energy grid. Decisions like this make it clear that wind and solar will never be the end all and be all to power Michigan.”

Others have raised concerns about how the shutdown would impact Michigan’s forestry industry that relies on biomass plants to dispose of waste.

“The loss of our biomass power stations will result in an increased reliance on volatile and unpredictable energy resources,” Justin Knepper, executive director of the Michigan Association of Timbermen told The Center Square. “Members of the Michigan Association of Timbermen work hard each and every day to ensure that our biomass power stations are supplied with sustainably harvested wood residuals that provide clean, renewable energy.”

There’s also impacts to forest management that increase the risk of wildfires, and complicates habitat creation for the Kirtland’s warbler, a native bird species that spent five decades on the Endangered Species List before it was removed in 2019, Knepper told Crain’s.

“One of the most beneficial impacts that the Lincoln biomass power station has in northeast Michigan is that of providing a small market for woody biomass generated through the intensive management of Kirtland’s warbler habitat,” he said.

“This is not being done by people who are looking for a good, healthy forest,” Gary Glawe, owner of Otsego County’s Northern Timberlands Inc., told Crain’s. “It’s being done by a bunch of people that honestly don’t have a clue how to take care of the forest.”

Those folks sit in Lansing, where Democrats who control the Legislature changed renewable energy credits last year to limit how much biomass plants can claim.

“The last round of energy bills last fall handcuffed us a bit,” Gary Melow, director of the Michigan biomass trade group, told the news site. “We’re able to keep on keeping on, but taking tire-derived fuel away … we lose production efficiencies and we lose the economic benefits.”

“It’s just not financially profitable for us to operate under the current contract with Consumers and the current business environment,” Tim Rushenberg, general counsel for National Energy of Lincoln, told Crain’s.