Officials representing four top donors to Gov. Bob McDonnell's upcoming energy conference are among a select group of speakers guaranteed an audience before a group of southern lawmakers, government officials and business leaders.
In his bid to make Virginia the "Energy Capital of the East Coast," McDonnell is hosting his second annual governor's energy conference Monday to Wednesday in Richmond.
The event will follow the annual meeting of the Southern States Energy Board, also gathering in Richmond, from Saturday to Monday.
The companies, part of the fossil fuel industry, earned "Diamond" sponsorship status.
The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group for the oil and natural gas industry, donated $10,000.
It is one of four "Platinum" sponsors.
The institute and each of the three businesses will have a speaker address the energy board, which is chaired by McDonnell. No companies that focus solely on renewable energy, which McDonnell says he supports, are scheduled to speak to the board.
Canissa Summerhill, a board employee who helped organize the event, said Friday morning the speakers were chosen by Maureen Matsen, Virginia's deputy secretary of natural resources and McDonnell's chief energy adviser. A prerequisite for being a speaker, Summerhill said, was to reach the "Platinum" sponsorship level for the governor's conference.
Matsen did not return a phone call Friday but a McDonnell spokeswoman said Summerhill was incorrect.
"It had nothing to do with sponsorship levels of the governor's energy conference," said Taylor Thornley, who noted that others slated to speak to the board, including representatives of Peabody Energy Corp. and the American Chemistry Council, did not donate money to McDonnell's conference.
When reached later Friday, Summerhill amended her comment, saying "some" speakers were Platinum sponsors but that it was not a requirement. Her boss, Kenneth Nemeth, added that Matsen helped organize the event but decisions were made by the board.
"Our agenda reflects (McDonnell's) agenda because he is the chairman of the board," Nemeth said.
McDonnell took control of the board, which promotes economic development and quality of life in 16 states and two U.S. territories, in 2011. He will be joined in Richmond by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Reps. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., various state lawmakers, government officials and business leaders.
A handful of renewable energy companies are sponsors for the governor's energy conference, which Matsen did curate, Thornley said.
One is Charlottesville-based Apex Wind Energy, which is one of two companies to submit unsolicited bids to develop wind turbines off the coast of Virginia Beach.
Another is Atlantic Wind Connection, a conglomerate of companies including Google, that plans to build an underwater transmission line from New Jersey to Virginia.