Government is not especially good at picking winners in the free market, including in the energy sector. Despite a lot of hoopla and subsidies, for example, corn-based ethanol has proven for the most part to be a nonstarter.

On the other hand, entrepreneurs have discovered that recycled cooking oil can be used to fuel vehicles, and many major energy companies are looking at algae as a potential alternative-energy resource.

Today, we have state and federal subsidies being poured into solar and wind power, although these may not turn out to be the most practical options (certainly not in every region of the country). Here in Pennsylvania, legislation has been introduced to force our utilities to use these more expensive technologies for a greater portion of our electricity generation.

A top talking point among those arguing for dumping tax dollars into these resources is the promise of "green jobs." Recent headlines touted the potential for 129,000 new green jobs if Pennsylvania simply increased its alternative-energy mandates.

Reporters and editors should have looked more closely at these numbers, especially given that it takes only 15,000 workers to generate and transmit all of Pennsylvania's electricity. Indeed, a recent analysis showed the claim was grossly inflated.

The "jobs" were really "job years" over a 15-year period, and even that number was overestimated by a whopping 93,000 job years. The real number of sustainable jobs that could be expected from expanded use of those alternative-energy resources is closer to 2,000, according to the review by Energy Ventures Analysis.

If the proposed higher alternative-energy standards cost Pennsylvanians $1 billion a year over the next 12 years, as the analysis predicted, that would amount to $6 million for each new job, excluding any cost of taxpayer subsidies for these options.

Obviously, we at the Pennsylvania Coal Association have a vested interest in promoting coal production. But every Pennsylvanian has a vested interest in the coal industry, too. Coal provides half of our electricity, and it is the most affordable fuel. In addition, the coal industry is directly and indirectly responsible for 41,500 jobs in the commonwealth, with an annual economic impact of $7.5 billion.

Fifty-nine Pennsylvania counties have some direct economic relationship to the coal industry. In fact, our coal machinery and equipment sector is the largest in the nation, and one of the few growing manufacturing sectors in the state. Much of the manufacturing for wind and solar power is being done overseas.

Pennsylvania also has two of the largest coal research facilities in the nation, helping us develop and incorporate new technology for a more efficient and affordable energy future. Research is critical to the forging of new technologies, including those that will further reduce coal-related emissions.

As we judge our various energy sources and plan for the future, let's keep some of these facts in mind. Taxpayers should discourage our elected officials from going "all in" on options that, 10 or 20 years from now, could be seen as this decade's version of corn ethanol.

George Ellis is president of the Pennsylvania Coal Association. He can be reached via pacoal1@aol.com.