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Green Jobs, or Pink Slips?

Op-Eds & Articles

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Green Jobs, or Pink Slips?

Jim Doyle last week unveiled his marquee energy initiative, the
Clean Energy Jobs Act. He says the legislation would create “green
jobs,” but it is much more likely to generate pink slips.

The
legislation would mandate more green energy, such as wind and solar
power. Of course, forcing people to use green energy creates jobs in
the green energy industry, but it’s not that simple. Green energy is
expensive energy, which is bad news for Wisconsin’s energy-intensive
industrial base. Doyle’s mandate might create some jobs in the solar
panel installation business, but it’s going to destroy just as many,
and probably more, paychecks in the manufacturing business.

Doyle
also wants to spend public money on green energy. This is a good idea
only if you think the government is well-suited to choose worthwhile
investments. To put it another way, whom do you trust to handle your
money: Jim Doyle or Charles Schwab?

To Doyle’s credit, his
energy ideas aren’t all bad. The Clean Energy Jobs Act includes a
relaxation on Wisconsin’s moratorium on new nuclear power plants. The
state’s nuclear fleet is aging. Loosening the nuclear moratorium is a
good start.

If Doyle wants to create jobs and save the
planet, he should get government out of the energy business. Consider
the state’s “monopoly franchise” law, by which government grants a
monopoly to a single electricity distributor in each service area.
Micro-generation technologies, including solar and wind power, could
make the provision of electricity greener, cheaper and more reliable,
but their development is impossible as long as the state outlaws
competition in the business of distributing electricity.

As
a historical aside, this anti-innovation law is Wisconsin’s curse on
the rest of America. At the peak of the Badger State’s Progressive
fever in 1907, the Legislature concluded that electricity provision is
a “natural monopoly,” despite the existence of robust competition among
electricity distributors in many cities. The Legislature’s ironic
solution was a government-certified monopoly. Since then, the authority
to grant “monopoly franchise” to utilities (and, by extension, the
authority to control the electricity business) has been seized by every
state legislature in the country. Without competition, however, there
is no incentive to improve, which is why the American electricity
industry, the lifeblood of the country’s economy, hasn’t changed
fundamentally in a hundred years.

Government creates jobs by
ending ill-advised market manipulations. To stimulate Wisconsin’s
economy, Doyle should deregulate the energy industry.