There was no red carpet at the Green Inaugural Ball at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture on Monday night. Only a green - well, somewhat olive - colored swath near the entrance for celebrities to give interviews about their views on energy and environmental issues. My favorite was the singer will.i.am, dressed in his trademark fedora. I listened in as another reporter in the scrum elicited his views on energy.
"The technology is there," he said, arguing that the U.S. economy could be much more energy efficient. He said that after he puts solar panels on his house later this year, "I'll be completely off the grid. There's a lot we can do."
One technology he cited was the electric car. When asked whether they were still too expensive for most people, will.i.am said "90 G's? That's a lot of money but not that much money." The only electric car that costs "90 G's" is the Tesla sports car and he confirmed that he owned one. It goes from zero to 60 miles an hour in 3.9 seconds. "Crazy torque," will.i.am said.
I asked him whether he owned any other cars. After all, the Tesla is a two-seater with a trunk big enough for a set of golf clubs. Yes, he said. He owns a Bentley.
Here's what the Web site NewCars.org says about the 2008 Bentley Azure. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $329,990. And it gets only 9 miles a gallon in the city, and 15 miles a gallon on the highway. So much for fuel efficiency.
All the same, it was quite a ball. The green carpet was made with renewable energy, organizers said, adding that it will be recycled. The environmentally correct bash also recycled other waste. Plastic bottles were taboo. Printed materials used soy ink on recycled paper. People attending the event were encouraged to take public transportation, could purchase carbon offsets from Native Energy to offset the carbon emissions associated with the ball. The money is tagged to finance a wind project for a Native American radio station, a methane capture project on a farm, a biomass conversion project in central Massachusetts, and a Des Plaines landfill to gas energy project.
In addition to will.i.am, entertainers included pop group Maroon Five, Michael Franti (who said he drives a Ford Escape hybrid) and, one of Al Gore's favorites, Melissa Etheridge. Gore himself dusted off his line that political will for tough energy and environmental programs has been lacking, but that once Barack Obama was president, people would show that "political will is a renewable resource."
There was a lot to celebrate for the hosts, who included most of the big names in the wind and solar energy industries. The economic stimulus proposal unveiled last week features $20 billion of renewable tax credits, $32 billion of electrical grid improvements, and more than $20 billion for other energy programs.
Nonetheless, many advocates of renewable energy want more and hope to get it in a separate energy bill. They are looking for things such as a Green Bank, which would lend to renewable and clean energy projects, and a national renewable portfolio standard, which would require utilities to hit certain targets for renewables as a percentage of power generation.) A group of 38 House members in the Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus led by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Jan. 16 listing a variety of additional steps to take.
But Sierra Club director Carl Pope, sporting his red cummerbund and bow tie at the Green Ball, said "the president has set the bar extraordinarily high."