Political Party Time

Reid fundraises at offices of solar energy company

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D., Nev., is scheduled to be in California fundraising this Thursday at the Oakland offices of BrightSource Energy -- a solar energy firm that earlier this year secured $1.37 billion in conditional federal loan guarantees to build a massive solar energy complex in Ivanpah, near the California-Nevada border, a project applauded by the Senator.

Hosting the breakfast event are  Brightsource Energy's CEO, John Woolard, and the chairman of PG&E Corporation, Peter Darbee. PG&E will be a major consumer of the electricity generated by the new project, with the first plant expected to go on-line in 2012. Woolard and other company executives have given a total of $6,000 to Sen. Reid since 2009 and PG&E's PAC has given $2,000.

When the U.S. Department of Energy announced the federal loan guarantees in February, Reid lauded the project, saying, "I look forward to BrightSource and other solar companies putting more Nevadans to work by building major projects like this in Nevada very soon."

And at the August 2009 Energy Summit 2.0 Roundtable Discussion led by Reid and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Woolard praised the Senator, saying that on the subject of solar energy he had "done a very good job of listening and understanding what some of these challenges are," and then went on to describe the Ivanpah project as a jobs creator primarily for people from Clark County, Nevada.

The 400 megawatt solar complex, which when complete will be the world's largest solar energy project, according to the company, will use mirrors to capture the sun's power on 3,600 acres of federal land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In addition to the loan guarantees, the project is considered a "fast track" priority for receiving federal stimulus dollars under the  American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). BrightSource Energy is also receiving funding from Google.org and BP Alternative Energy among other groups.

Brightsource reported paying $100,000 in the first half of the year hiring  McBee Consulting to "monitor" the loan guarantee program and the ARRA program for the company, according to federal lobbying records. Also on hire for a reported $40,000 was the firm R&R Partners, which represented the firm on stimulus issues. Both lobbyists for the firm, Michael Pieper and Victoria S. Napier, formerly worked for the State of Nevada.

BrightSource also benefits from a Nevada deal with Coyote Springs Land Company, whose chairman, Harvey Whittemore, is a Nevada lobbyist fixture and reportedly close to Reid. Under the deal, BrightSource is leasing land from the company, which already has secured necessary permits from federal agencies, and hopes to provide up to 960 megawatts of solar thermal energy for customers in California and Nevada.

Reid is a staunch proponent of the alternative energy industry, a group which has shown a huge leap in campaign contributions and lobbying spending these past two election cycles, but still is dwarfed by the spending by the older and more entrenched oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Reid has received  more campaign cash--$66,000--from the alternative energy industry this election cycle than any other lawmaker. In March, the Solar Energy Industries Association named him "Solar Champion of the Year."

Reid faces a tough campaign this November against Republican Sharron Angle, who according to recent polling is running neck-and-neck with the Senator, despite her also suffering from high negative reactions among voters.

Keenan Steiner contributed to this report.

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