I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.
Where could you get 797 people to stand in line outside a nightclub to attend a $100-a-ticket fundraiser for a nonprofit that advocates for solar energy? Not-so-sunny San Francisco, of course.
The queue to get into the Vote Solar Initiative annual spring equinox bash snaked down the street Monday, and even the sun made an appearance during a break in the deluge that has been soaking the Bay Area for the past week.
Now, I don’t cover the party beat. But as someone who lived in San Francisco during the dot-com boom of the late ’90s and worked at the leading chronicler of the era, The Industry Standard, I came to see parties as an indicator of any boom.
Back then, the line for the Standard’s weekly rooftop bash routinely stretched down the block. (It was the only magazine I’ve ever worked for that employed its own doorman.) What started out as reporters and editors knocking back a few beers ballooned into an over-the-top bacchanal, taken over by PR people and advertisers. (For the Standard’s second anniversary, the magazine rented out San Francisco City Hall and installed hot-and-cold running martini and sushi bars.)
Well, we all know how that ended.
There was plenty of drink and slow food to be had at the Vote Solar bash, and a self-confident air of optimism among the largely young crowd. But given the politicians and corporate solar heavyweights like SunPower and Suntech backing the event, it’s clear that the green scene promises to have far more staying power than the dot-com bubble.
“We’ve got to make sure this city is on 100 percent renewable energy,” San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee told the crowd. Folks in attendance were decked out in cowboy hats, to commemorate the defeat last year of Proposition 23 — the ballot measure backed by Texas oil companies that would have derailed California’s landmark global warming law.
“Not just municipal,” added Lee, noting the city now generates 17 megawatts of solar electricity. “Everybody has got to do that. Everybody. We want the whole city in 2020 to be 100 percent renewable energy.”
Adam Browning, VoteSolar’s executive director, told partygoers that action on pro-solar policy would shift from Congress to the states.
“We’ve got real trouble and out of crisis comes opportunity,” he said. “The way forward will probably not be at the federal level. Talk about real trouble. Which leaves us with our strategy at the state level.”
While Vote Solar was born in California, it’s now expanding its lobbying efforts to the East Coast and the Midwest.
Another reason to party like it’s 2011.