Renewable power businesses that stand to benefit from energy provisions in the tax package scheduled for a House vote today boosted campaign contributions this election cycle, part of their widening political presence.
Trade groups and companies with wind, solar and geothermal divisions along with those representing the ethanol industry distributed money to both Democrats and Republicans. All combined, they gave nearly $1.3 million to 71 senators and 229 House members. The amount of money, while small compared to what oil and natural gas companies contribute, has grown each recent election cycle.
The businesses and trade groups have also lobbied zealously for extensions of tax incentives that ultimately were included in the tax legislation likely to pass a House vote. Businesses and lawmakers, however, said there is no connection between contributions and votes.
"Iberdrola Renewables historically has supported candidates with a record of supporting renewable energy," said Jan Johnson, spokeswoman for that wind developer. "However, in the case of [renewable grant program] Section 1603, some of the candidates to whom we made contributions ended up supporting the policy, while others ended up opposing it. If policy outcomes depended solely on dollars spent, clean energy would lose every time."
Businesses contribute money because it is successful at helping achieve their legislative goals, a government watchdog group said.
"They're not doing it out of altruism," said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Certainly whether you're talking about green businesses or regular businesses they're making these contributions because they think it's going to benefit their bottom line."
Renewable businesses want to keep friendly lawmakers in office, he added.
"It's also a way to get their attention and get them to take your calls and be able to talk with their staff," Ellis said. "If you've cashed in somebody's check and you want to keep cashing their checks ... you're going to talk to these people. It may very well swing your vote."
E&E Daily examined campaign contributions made by the political action committees of the American Wind Energy Association; the Solar Energy Industries Association; ethanol trade groups Growth Energy and Poet; geothermal power plants owner Calpine Corp.; wind businesses Iberdrola Renewables, Horizon Wind Energy LLC and E. On Climate & Renewables; and the utilities Duke Energy Corp., Florida Power & Light Co., and NRG Energy Inc.. Those utilities have received some of the largest awards under the grant-in-lieu-of-tax-credit program extended as part of the tax package.
The tax legislation, passed yesterday by the Senate, would extend for one year the Section 1603 grant program created by the 2009 stimulus bill. That incentive offers wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable power developers grants of up to 30 percent of project costs, in lieu of tax credits they would otherwise receive. Hydropower and certain biomass projects receive half the amount available to the others.
Renewable companies say the incentive has created jobs and driven development, helping keep the sector alive during the recession.
The package also would extend ethanol tax credits through 2011 at the current 45-cent-per-gallon level, as well as the current 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol and the 22.67-cent-per-gallon tariff on ethyl tertiary butyl ether. That provision was in the package negotiated by President Obama and the GOP.
The grant-in-lieu-of-tax-credit program originally had not been included in the Obama and Republican deal. It was added after wind, solar, hydropower and others ramped up lobbying and a large number of lawmakers proclaimed their support.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and 17 other senators last week sent a letter to Senate leadership and the heads of the Finance Committee asking them to include the program. On the same day, more than a quarter of House Democrats also said in a letter that a two-year extension of the benefit was vitally important (E&ENews PM, Dec. 9).
Renewables and ethanol businesses and trade groups reached out via their contributions to some of the key lawmakers on energy issues.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, in the 2010 election cycle received contributions from several green power trade groups and companies. The American Wind Energy Association gave him $5,000, the largest amount the trade group gave to a House member. Iberdrola Renewables gave him $1,500. Florida Power & Light gave him $7,000 and NRG contributed $5,000, according to Center for Responsive Politics and Federal Election Commission data.
"He's had a longstanding philosophical position in support of renewable energy," said Kate Bazinsky, Markey's political and finance director, who noted that Markey gave a speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention calling for more renewable power.
"It makes sense that people in the [renewable] industry would want to be supportive of someone who believes that renewables are the future," Bazinsky said.
Other House members who received higher amounts from multiple businesses or trade groups include Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-N.D.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.), Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), along with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). Pomeroy, Sandlin and Hill were defeated in November's election.
Bono Mack received $5,000 from solar trade group SEIA, $10,000 from Florida Power & Light (FP&L), $2,500 from Calpine and $1,000 from NRG.
"The additional language for renewable energy tax credits was added in the Senate, not the House," said Bono Mack spokeswoman Anjulen Anderson. "The congresswoman has never allowed financial support to influence her decisions in any manner."
In the Senate, some of the largest amounts went to Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
AWEA gave $10,000 each to Bingaman, Stabenow and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-highest ranking Democrat in the chamber.
The wind trade group gave Boxer $8,999. She also received $3,500 from SEIA, $1,000 from Iberdrola, $5,000 each from FP&L and Duke Energy, $6,000 from NRG, and $3,000 from Calpine. Boxer, who voted for the tax bill, has been a longtime supporter of the renewable industry, her staff said.
In a Tuesday floor speech, Boxer said the grant program "is critical to our clean energy businesses and will result in tens of thousands of jobs because it allows companies that are moving forward with solar, wind and geothermal clean energy projects to essentially get a tax credit up front. It's essential because there are a lot of plans on the drawing boards and if this hadn't been renewed, we would have lost those plans and we would have lost those jobs."
Murkowski also voted "yes" on the tax package but not based on any single part of it, said her spokesman Robert Dillon.
"She thought the tax deal was important for Americans, that the Bush tax cuts didn't expire and that Americans didn't see their tax bills go up," Dillon said. "The senator's policy on energy has always been a balanced, all-of-the-above strategy ... as much energy as cheaply as possible."
Murkowski's re-election campaign took in $8,000 from AWEA, $1,000 from Iberdrola, $5,000 each from FP&L and NRG, $4,500 from Duke Energy, and $4,000 from Calpine. Dillon noted that during the election he was asked about campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry and now about renewables.
"Senator Murkowski has supported the renewable energy industry when those programs made prudent sense," Dillon said.
Grassley received $5,500 from AWEA, $2,500 from Iberdrola, $1,000 from Horizon Wind Energy, $3,000 from FP&L, $2,500 from Duke Energy, $2,400 from Growth Energy and $8,500 from Poet. He is seen as one of the most stalwart ethanol supporters.
"The ethanol provision being extended in this bill has previously been extended just as the other 50 tax extensions in the bill have been," said Grassley spokeswoman Jill Kozeny. "Senator Grassley accepts campaign contributions that are legal and come with no strings attached."
Bingaman, who received a total of $14,000 in campaign contributions from the renewable PACS that E&E Daily analyzed, voted "no" on the tax bill. He supported extending the tax credit for renewables, said spokeswoman Jude McCartin, but found the overall bill too costly.
"New Mexico has great potential for renewable energy -- wind, solar -- and he's been a strong supporter of moving our country to a more sustainable and less carbon-dependent economy," McCartin said.
Giving to more
Legislative support for the renewable sector comes as some trade groups and businesses increase their contributions.
American Wind Energy Association, or AWEA, in the most recent campaign cycle gave nearly $223,000, up from slightly more than $135,000 given in 2008, according to Center for Responsive Politics data. The trade group also widened its reach, contributing to 40 House lawmakers and 41 senators compared to the previous cycle when it gave to 28 campaigns in each chamber.
"Just as the wind energy industry has grown into a major player on America's electric grid, our individual members have been able to step up their participation in the electoral process through WindPAC," said Chris Chwastyk, vice president of federal legislative affairs for AWEA. "That's how our democratic system works, and we're glad to be a part of it. Of course we always follow the rules to be sure our participation is appropriate.
"Clearly, many members in Congress realize what AWEA has been saying for some time," Chwastyk added. "Growing the wind industry creates new jobs in America and helps grow our economy, in addition to providing cleaner energy."
Duke Energy in the 2010 cycle spent $393,400, up from $341,000 in 2008. The company's PAC in the most recent cycle gave to 81 House members and 43 senators. Duke is a broad-based energy company with both traditional fuel and renewable energy generation facilities.
"We support legislators from our five states and others on key committees to our industry who we believe are philosophically aligned with the interests of our customers and shareholders," said Tom Williams, spokesman for Duke Energy. "We do not contribute based on single issues. ... And our PAC decisions are employee-driven by committee."
NRG contributed $135,750 to 11 senators and 43 House members. That is up from $100,800 in the 2008 cycle.
"NRG is active in a variety of issues in Washington," said John O'Brien, NRG Energy's senior vice president of regulatory & government affairs. "We are very excited about the energy projects that we are developing across the country. These projects are leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars in private-sector investment and creating thousands of jobs in many communities."
Ethanol trade groups Growth Energy and Poet both were new contributors in the 2010 cycle. Growth gave $88,900 to campaigns while Poet gave $66,400.
"Growth Energy's political support has been directed toward those lawmakers who have demonstrated their commitment to renewable fuels, like ethanol, and rural America," said Growth Energy spokesman Chris Thorne. "Ethanol could never match our political opponents dollar for dollar; Big Oil and Big Food flood Washington, D.C., campaign donations. But even while we fight above our weight class, we can win the debate because the facts are on our side."
Iberdrola also said that renewables give far less money than traditional power generators.
"The real news here is that the job-creating Section 1603 policy was extended in spite of millions of dollars spent by clean energy opponents," Johnson said. "That means that thousands of American workers will keep their jobs, and our nation's energy mix will get cleaner."