There's a green gold rush on Capitol Hill.
With Congress plowing toward legislation on energy and climate, lobbyists and their clients are swarming House and Senate offices. They are booking up conference rooms, shaking hands and submitting proposals for financial help and policy changes.
There are hundreds of hired guns now working on the energy issues. They represent a swath of diverse and sometimes conflicting interests, from small companies turning algae into oil to traditional utilities and big corporations, including Google, United Parcel Service and Safeway.
"What's happening in energy and carbon, what's being contemplated is nothing short of transformational," said Steve McBee, CEO of McBee Strategic Consulting, a lobbying firm with 31 clients interested in energy. Bills planned on energy and climate in Congress, he said, represent "an attempt to fundamentally shift the market."
"There's enough momentum and political will," McBee said, adding that Congress and President Obama "have a fighting chance of getting it done."
Momentum on changing energy policy began in the last two years, as state after state passed regulations promoting renewable energy. The private sector started shifting toward green power production, but that movement stalled with the economic crisis, several lobbyists and energy experts said. With credit dried up and venture capitalists ceasing investments, companies that need money for power projects are turning to the federal government.
Lawmakers besieged by ideas now must decide how to weigh requests and pick which are most aligned with their constituencies' needs and policy goals.
"What we're seeing is a very large number of clean energy companies and clean energy developers pursuing Congress and federal support in an effort to maintain the momentum that began 12 to 24 months ago," said Nick d'Arbeloff, president of New England Clean Energy Council, a trade group.
"It won't be an easy process for any of these companies to unlock dollars for their organization," d'Arbeloff added. "But a signal is being sent by the White House and by the Department of Energy that clean energy is a priority."
Companies and groups interested in energy and natural resources legislation spent nearly $355 million on lobbyists last year, up from $240 million in 2007, according to Congressional Quarterly's MoneyLine. That spending and the pool of people pleading their case are growing steadily this year as well.
Since January, 185 companies hired lobbyists to work on energy issues, MoneyLine records show. Even Fortune 500 companies that have long employed lobbyists on other issues have needed to hire more to track potential energy policy changes.
Established smaller companies want to shift toward clean energy. And new companies need help approaching lawmakers.
"We try to listen to everybody, because we know that there is no one single solution," said Anne Johnson, spokeswoman for Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "There's a lot of demand. There are a lot of people calling.
"We know that we have to look at these technologies while also looking at cleaner traditional energy."
With so many people knocking on their doors, lawmakers know they will ultimately write policies that will benefit some and exclude others. The goal, one said, is to avoid picking winners.
"It is our job here to set the signals right so we have a level playing field for these clean energy companies," said Rep. Jay Inslee, (D-Wash.), who sits on both the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
"Virtually any technology that has potential to be viable, they should have a seat at the table to move forward," Inslee said.
Outside experts from universities, including Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are helping lawmakers evaluate which proposals might be commercially viable.
"We're not just throwing darts here," Inslee said.