Last month, Gov. Jon S. Corzine became the latest politician to drink the "green jobs" Kool-Aid when he unveiled an "energy master plan," that he says can make the clean-energy industry "the cornerstone of New Jersey’s economy." In fact, Corzine’s master plan is doomed to failure for the same reason communism failed in Russia: Government is incapable of successfully planning any industry.
Corzine says his plan would create thousands of "green jobs," but the only jobs government can create are those for bureaucrats and regulators. Consider the Corzine plan’s No. 1 goal-reducing energy consumption by auditing 3.7 million residential and commercial buildings in New Jersey for energy efficiency. Achieving this target would require an entire new bureaucracy of government inspectors to tell New Jersey homeowners and entrepreneurs what energy-efficiency improvements they have to make. In short, green jobs mean big government.
Corzine announced his energy plan at the YouthBuild Institute, a vocational school for teenagers, to highlight his plan to teach people to install solar panels and light bulbs. Demand for these goods and services would come from laws that force consumers to increase energy efficiency, rather than market forces.
But history demonstrates that government is likely to do more harm than good whenever it tries to control an industry by establishing demand and creating supply. Taxpayer money spent on "green job" training comes out of the market economy, which otherwise would have allocated those resources more efficiently to produce goods and services that consumers actually want.
Corzine wants to create demand for clean-energy jobs with a requirement that New Jersey get 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Yet alternative energy is also expensive energy. According to the energy master plan, "renewable generation is currently more expensive to build than conventional generation." By forcing renewables on New Jersey, Corzine would create some jobs constructing wind turbines, but it would also drive away employers by making electricity more expensive.
Corzine argues that investing in clean-energy technologies will make New Jersey an industry leader. But that’s unlikely, because government has never been good at choosing the most promising emerging technologies. Government is run by bureaucrats and regulators, not venture capitalists. That’s why the federal government has wasted so much money in the past on failed energy initiatives, like hydrogen fuel cells and synfuels. Rather than produce a technology breakthrough, Corzine’s clean-energy initiative is more likely to become a pork barrel fund for legislators to have at their disposal to reward constituent schools and companies.
If New Jersey voters want to pay more for energy to create a few green jobs at a net loss to their economy, they are free to do so. But they should have all the facts on the table before they decide. To that end, Corzine needs to come clean about the true costs of the green jobs he proposes to create.
William Yeatman is an energy policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington.