Alternate Energy Powers up Lobbying

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"In 2009, alternative energy spent $30 million on lobbying—12 times its 1998 amount."

Alternative energy used to be just a speed bump on K Street.

In 1998, the entire sector spent only $2.4 million lobbying the federal government, compared with $142 million spent by the oil and gas, electrical utilities and mining industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political spending.

A little more than a decade later, the advocacy class for wind, solar, ethanol and a host of other alternative and renewable energy sources is growing exponentially—much as the sector hopes its market share will in the coming decades. 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. "The industry realizes it needs to have a larger political presence and has responded with increased lobbying expenditures," said Dave Levinthal, a center spokesman.

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 (SEIA) increased its 2007 expenditures of $630,000 to more than $1.6 million in 2009.

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.

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