As the solar energy industry goes through an often painful period of consolidation, expect to see a similar trend in its Washington lobby presence.
Many solar companies are suffering, with three firms recently declaring bankruptcy.
Federal incentives that helped launch alternative-energy projects are expiring. A Department of Energy program providing loan guarantees is under congressional scrutiny for possible conflicts of interest. And lower natural-gas prices are driving down demand for solar power.
Perhaps the greatest force affecting the industry, though, has been the impact of government subsidies not only in the U.S., but in Europe and China. Too many manufacturers are competing in the market.
Stock prices have plummeted as many firms struggle with large debt loads. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that six of the 10 largest publicly traded companies manufacturing solar components experienced losses in the third quarter.
In Washington, the industry has spent millions, lobbying on such issues as tax credits, DOE loan guarantees and protectionism.
Many firms rely on the industry’s major trade group, Solar Energy Industries Association, whose lobby expenses topped $1.1 million in the first three quarters of 2011.
Consolidation has even reached the trade group, which represents 1,100 companies across the country. The association announced Tuesday that it was merging with the Solar Alliance, an organization that works for solar policies at the state level.
The Solar Energy Industries Association employed three lobby shops last year: BlueWater Strategies, Ernst & Young, and SC Partners.
Founded by lobbyists Charlie Shipp and Katie Cullen, SC Partners has a focus on solar, with additional clients such as First Solar, Stirling Energy Systems and NTR PLC.
Although regarded as one of the leaders in solar panel manufacturing, First Solar is emblematic of the challenges the industry faces.
It share price has declined by more than 70 percent over the past year. Warren Buffett’s energy company, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., announced in December that it would buy buy a $2 billion California solar farm from the company after it was unable to get a loan guarantee for the project.
Despite recent setbacks, the industry has a friend in the White House. Not only did the Energy Department provide loan guarantees for new projects – including the now-bankrupt Solyndra – but the Interior Department has shown support for alternative energies.
The department last month approved a request by the Centinela Solar Energy Project to run power lines across public lands, connecting a solar plant near El Centro, CA, with a San Diego Gas & Electric substation.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar pointed out at the time that the department had approved 27 renewable energy projects. “As we continue to move thoughtfully and quickly toward a clean energy future, these projects are strengthening local economies by generating good jobs and reliable power,” he said.
Our list below shows the lobbying expenditures for the first three quarters of 2011, for industry clients who reported spending more than $5,000 in any quarter.
Spending totals may include other issues in addition to solar energy. We have omitted large energy and manufacturing companies whose solar programs make up just a small portion of their activities.
Altogether, these companies spent more than $23 million on lobbying activities from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30.
Count on this list being shorter a year from now.
|Solar Energy Industries Association||$1,163,815|
|Abengoa Solar Inc.||$270,000|
|All Day Solar||$75,000|
|Applied Materials, Inc||$1,570,000|
|Brightsource Energy, Inc.||$270,000|
|Capitol Solar Energy||$15,000|
|Cogentrix Energy, LLC||$60,000|
|Constellation Energy Group||$2,290,000|
|E. ON Climate and Renewables North America||$150,000|
|Energy Conversion Devices||$54,000|
|First Solar, Inc.||$480,000|
|Flabeg US Solar Corporation||$7,000|
|Gdf Suez Energy North America, Inc.||$290,000|
|Global Solar Energy||$70,000|
|Green Path Technologies, Inc.||$60,000|
|National Grid, USA||$2,120,000|
|Nextera Energy, Inc.||$1,500,000|
|Peabody Investments Corp.||$4,970,000|
|Solar Trust of America||$240,000|
|Stirling Energy Systems||$30,000|
|Suniva , Inc.||$90,000|
|Teco Energy, Inc.||$670,000|
|Tigo Energy, Inc.||$60,000|
|Veeco Instruments Incorporated||$86,000|