Fine Print: New Jersey, Maybe Not So Green

Tom Johnson | April 3, 2012 | Energy & Environment
Bureau of Labor Statistics releases latest ‘Green Goods and Services’ summary

Clean energy advocates and lawmakers like to tout the success of New Jersey in developing the nation’s second biggest solar market, a distinction they say has created thousands of jobs in an economy that otherwise has been shedding jobs like paper. Now, a new report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests the state may not have that much to brag about — at least compared to its neighbors in the Northeast.

The picture nationwide: In 2010, 3.1 million jobs across the country were associated with green goods and services, accounting for 2.4 percent of the total workforce, according to the federal agency’s latest report. The bulk of those jobs — 2.3 million — involved employment in the private sector with the government providing another 860,300 jobs.

Who is doing well: Probably to no one’s surprise California, which leads the way with 338,400 green jobs, is one of six states where more than 100,000 people are employed in the sector, including New Jersey’s neighbors, New York and Pennsylvania. Tiny Vermont has the highest percentage of people employed in providing green jobs and services with 4.4 percent of its workplace employed in the sector.

How is New Jersey doing: The total employment in the industry amounted to 76,025 jobs, or 2 percent of the workforce. Like the nationwide numbers, the vast majority of those jobs were in the private sector accounting for 52,878 jobs. The next biggest sector was transportation and warehousing with 17,679 jobs. In New Jersey, utilities accounted for 322 jobs in the sector.

What’s not to like about New Jersey’s numbers: Only 6,467 of those jobs in the state were associated with manufacturing. That number renews questions about whether the state can revive its manufacturing sector by luring green industries to New Jersey, such as those that make solar panels or its oft-stated goal to become the focus of an offshore wind industry.

What it means: More trouble ahead in asking electric and gas customers to subsidize efforts to promote solar and offshore wind energy in New Jersey, an expense that could cost ratepayers more than $5 billion over the next two decades, according to the Division of Rate Counsel.

Will it change policies: A tough question to answer. It certainly will give ammunition to business interests who complain the state’s aggressive goals to promote more costly renewable energy are putting businesses in New Jersey at a competitive disadvantage with competitors in other states. Others say the state will likely stay the course, particularly with offshore wind, as a way to deflect attention away from efforts to reel back some of New Jersey’s other environmental laws.