Alternative energy used to be just a speed bump on K Street. The entire sector spent in 1998 spent only $2.4 million lobbying the federal government compared with $142 million spent by the oil and gas, electrical utilities and mining industries. In 2009, alternative energy spent $30 million on lobbying, 12 times its 1998 amount.
The prospects of action on a major energy bill — with billions set aside for research and development of new, cleaner fuels — is a major reason for that. But the speed of expansion is eye-popping. Until 2008, the American Wind Energy Association spent less than $1 million a year on lobbyists — and most years less than $500,000. In 2009, it spent nearly $5 million on lobbying, almost triple its 2008 outlay. Similarly, the Solar Energy Industries Association increased its 2007 expenditures of $630,000 to more than $1.6 million in 2009.
With the growth of the solar energy industry, SEIA’s membership has expanded, giving the organization a larger budget and the freedom to hire more lobbyists to work on a wider range of policy issues. The group exercised that new muscle in 2008 when it won extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credit for another eight years.
This year, SEIA is tracking the energy bill and advocating for a few specific policy perks, including renewal of parts of the 2009 stimulus bill that provided tax credits and loans to investors and manufacturers of solar energy components.
To be sure, the alternative energy industry sector’s lobbying strength is still small, compared with such rivals as Big Oil, which has never spent less than $50 million on lobbying since 1998 and in 2009 spent $168 million.
Wind, solar, ethanol and other alternative energy groups are also stepping up their political contributions to candidates — almost all of them Democrats. AWEA donated $37,600 to 2006 midterm campaigns; thus far this cycle, it has donated almost $137,322. SEIA gave $8,000 to candidates during the 2006 midterms and $90,000 during the 2008 elections. SEIA’s 2010 giving recently began, and it amounts to just $10,000 thus far.
As in the case of lobbying, the new players lag well behind the old energy interests. As a case in point, the oil and gas sector alone gave $7.3 million to candidates in 2006, with 17 percent going to Democrats and 83 percent to Republicans.
In a nod to the partisan shift in power in Congress, during this cycle Big Oil has doled out nearly $13 million, of which 52 percent went to Democrats and 48 percent to Republicans.