Archive for the 'General Info' Category

Australia: Sharing Environmental Education with US

Friday, August 8th, 2008

The National Energy Education Development Project (NEED) has a motto – “kids teaching kids.” In June, this motto was changed to “kids teaching teachers.” John Atkins, principal of Botany Bay Environmental School in Sydney, Australia visited the United States in an effort to learn more about sustainability and “green” education in the US. Chris Graillent from the California Department of Energy was instrumental in connecting Mr. Atkins to contacts in the “states.” Evergreen 6, a PG&E Solar School in Paradise California, was just one of several stops he made. As part of Paradise Intermediate School, Evergreen 6 has about 90 sixth graders that have learned several ways to reduce their impacts on the environment and to share those ways with others.

As they did for several classes of third graders, E6 students shared their knowledge about a number of topics with Mr. Atkins:

  • Facts about our sun
  • Sunscreen facts and rules for application
  • Solar cooking
  • The role solar cooking could play in many parts of the world that have energy shortages
  • Rain water harvesting
  • Composting with worms (vermicomposting)
  • Composting by pile (thermocomposting)
  • Solar energy today and tomorrow
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars (model)
  • Alternative transportation (Hybrids, electrics)
  • Various grants received (PG&E Solar Installation, PG&E “Bright Ideas,” Paradise Community Foundation Recycling/Composting grant, California Schools Garden grant)
  • Parts of a solar system
  • Solar orientation
  • Fresnel lens
  • Net metering

Mr. Atkins was an outstanding “student” and was very generous in his questions and interest. Evergreen 6 students were lucky enough to spend a few hours talking about and questioning how things are different (and the same) in Australia. Then they were treated to a slide show on the Botany Bay Environmental School and some of their outings.

Students were surprised to find out that one rule, at this school in Australia, is that you may not participate in outside recess without a hat – it is compulsory. In the United States, hats have actually been banned from many schools for a number of reasons. However, when you think about what hats and sunscreen can prevent, it seems obvious to require hats outside.

If being able to spend the morning with this fantastic teacher from Oz wasn’t enough, Mr. Atkins presented the school with a boomerang, and personal lessons on how to throw one. After that, he was into his hybrid rental and off to another school visit.

The students and staff of Evergreen really felt fortunate for the visit. We felt validated that what we are doing is unique and worthwhile. We also learned so much from our virtual field trip to Australia. Now if we can just figure out how to take a trip down there….

Paradise: Not Always What The Name Implies…

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Story and photos from Greg Holman

humbolt-fire-ap-pic.jpg As many people on the west coast are living in  the smoke of hundreds (down from thousands) of lightning fires, it would be logical to do a story about the only regular maintenance involved in owning a solar system – periodically cleaning the panels. However, this is about something much different. With the instantaneous distribution of information, news, video and images, we are becoming a country – no, a world of desensitized individuals. 10,000 perish in an earthquake in the Middle East, millions of people displaced because of a hydroelectric project in China, and the list goes on. So, when more than 80 homes burned in the wind-driven “Humboldt” wildfire in Paradise, California, it was “section B” news for many people.


For residents living in and around the town of Paradise, this was reality. Thousands of people were displaced, most temporarily. Others were displaced from their homes forever. Somehow, this is amplified when it is realized that 7 of the people who lost everything were my former students.

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The PG&E Solar Schools program began in 2004. Who knew that it would grow to the large community of schools, non-profits, and people passionate about the program. Before the fire was even out, there had been several teachers throughout the state, officials from the Solar Schools Program, NEED, and the Foundation for Environmental Education calling and emailing to see if their school in Paradise was alright. Stay tuned for an article on what is being done for those students who lost their homes.


When something of such large scale hits so close to home, you realize how little we need to get by. Quickly, you see just how much we do each day is an “extra” and non-essential to go through life. Many of the people most affected are the ones with such a positive outlook – ready to rebuild and move on. Looking at my family and house still standing, I realize that so many things that we plug in are just luxuries.

As I am writing this, a three-week siege of lightning fires are slowly coming under control all over California, and again in the Paradise area. 50 more homes were lost in the region to these fires. Over 10,000 people are being allowed back into their homes as evacuation orders are being lifted. The governor twice, and tomorrow the President, will be in the area to assess the damage and plan for recovery.

If the second round of fires were not bad enough, today it was announced that the first fire has been deemed arson.

Lets focus on what we can control. First, get out and give your solar panels a good cleaning. Squeeze out every extra free watt you can by using “soft” water and a squeegee. Next, try to volunteer in your area in any capacity that you can for emergency preparedness. Donations of used clothing and goods to non-profits, financial donations, or volunteering for a number of local organizations can be ways to help!

Anyone interested in helping is encouraged to donate to their local chapter of the American Red Cross, or for people specifically in Paradise: the American Red Cross or the Paradise Community Foundation (

Explore Your Independence

Friday, July 4th, 2008



Story and photos provided by Alyssa Newman


In the United States, today, it’s Independence Day.  Tomorrow it’s Independence Day in Venezuela.  Various countries have been declaring and celebrating the many forms of independence since at least the 1300’s.  I get a little nostalgic on such holidays.  Sure – it’s great to have an extra day to spend with family and friends, and I’ve shared many a watermelon and BBQ over the years…culminating in an over-the-top display of fire and lights put to some interpretive soundtrack.  I think it’s also important to give at least a small shout out and moment of thoughtful pause to the reason for the day…and remember what independence is all about…the first significance of the day… and reinterpret the day for the present…and explore our unique independence a bit.  Inspiration comes from many sources.




About a month ago, I took a trip through the desert and had my own independent epiphanies.   Most of us learned in school that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 – his own mission of independence and exploration, and he “discovered” America…conventional wisdom said the world was flat, but he sailed to prove them wrong.  Ironically, today we live in a world where many new authors say the world is flat once more.  Columbus landed on the Bahamas (thinking he was in Asia), and thought he saw Indians.  The Indians he saw were what we learned were the true first inhabitants of the land, and they lived there quite sustainably on the land until some of our ancestors decided they had a piece of paper that said they owned the land.


People had actually been living there for thousands of years…in some land we’d now find quite inhospitable, generations thrived…and later disappeared.


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Montezuma’s Castle




Sedona, AZ – view near the end of a vortex scavenger hunt.


My friends would probably say that I spend far too much time thinking about energy independence (they tell me that when I’m going on and on about solar energy).  The many energy seeds stories we try to tell are all about independent actions and thinking catalyzing change.  Independence is a goal and a journey…relevant to every individual around the world.   Sometimes it takes a little oil to explore, but eventually we can and will live in a world with much less oil. What role will each of us play in that new world?





Areas that were once a jungle may somehow wind up in a painted desert.








Areas that are now desert, may be oceans once more.







Rt. 66 is now many highways, and new roads and modes of transport will connect us in the future.











Who will be around in the future to tell these stories?

We drove over 2,000 miles with a fuel cost over $600.  I bought 1.79 tons of CO2 offsets from Native Energy to support Remooable Energy projects at a cost of a mere $24…truth be told, I still do and should feel guilty about driving…but that won’t stop me from exploring.  Sometimes you have to see the things you want to protect and learn from firsthand – wikipedia is nice as are the NPS websites, but they don’t impart the beauty…the snow, wind, rain and 50+ mph gusting winds…all that can and does occur on the trail.  On this July 4th, I encourage you to get out and explore your independence, be mindful of your carbon footprint, and tell your story.  Oh, and don’t forget to surge the sun!



San Francisco Food Bank – working to end hunger; now fed with green energy

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008


Story submitted by Laura Fischer

The San Francisco Food Bank collects and distributes most of the food that local human service agencies use to fight hunger. The donated food comes from grocers, manufacturers, and growers. The food is distributed to programs for the underserved such as senior centers, schools, daycare, and soup kitchens, to name a few. They expect to distribute over 31 million pounds of food this year, and partner with nearly 500 non-profit and community organizations to fulfill their mission to end hunger in San Francisco. 

The SF Food Bank, in addition to being a leader in ending hunger, has now become one on the green energy front. Much of the food that the Food Bank collects and distributes comes from the sun through photosynthesis. Fruits and vegetables which would normally be thrown out by growers due to cuts, nicks, or wrong size are distributed by the Food Bank. Now the sun is also contributing directly to the workings of the Food Bank itself. Recently 320 solar panels were installed on the roof, through which the Food Bank will be getting a projected 10 -15% of their energy needs met.  Most of the energy is used to power a 41,000 cubic feet cooler and freezer that house some of the 31 million pounds of food that will feed hungry people in San Francisco this year. 


Many non-profit organizations don’t own the buildings they do business in. However, fifteen years ago, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) donated land to the Food Bank. Last year PG&E approached them again wanting to donate $210,000 in photovoltaic solar panels and installation. The San Francisco Department of the Environment offered another $75,000 to increase the size of the system to 320 solar panels.Stacy Robinson, Manager and Michael Braude, director of Finance & Administration in the Food Bank worked hard to make this project happen. They had to successfully coordinate the challenge of both donations coming in at the same time. According to Michael “Funders saw that this project was more than about just reducing energy usage or decreasing our carbon footprint – this was about helping this agency do more of what we are trying to accomplish- reach our mission sooner – accomplish our mission better. Every dollar saved in energy costs is converted into nine dollars of food.”

The SF Food Bank received technical support with the project through the Foundation of Environmental Education (FEE). According to Michael, FEE was extremely helpful when talking to the various vendors. FEE assisted by helping them to understand the options and question the vendors when they weren’t clear. They chose Sun Light and Power to install the solar panels. “Sun Light and Power was very competitive and they were interested in optimally utilizing the architecture of the building.” 


Many of the 70 full- and part-time staff members at the Food Bank would love to put solar panels on their roofs. However with the high cost of housing in the San Francisco area and living on a non-profit salary, most of them cannot afford to own their own home. For those that do own their own home, the cost of solar panels at present prices is felt not to be affordable. However they all want to reduce their carbon footprint. Many ride their bikes to work or take public transportation. They are very excited to have the solar panels generating electricity to make an even greater impact at work.  


As you enter the building you probably are not able to see these solar panels but you can see them as you look down on Pennsylvania Avenue in San Francisco from route 280 south. As you walk into the reception area there is a computer kiosk where you can see how much solar energy is being generated by reaching the solar panels on the roof of the SF Food Bank (solar irradiance varies with time of year, location, cloud cover etc.) and how much of this solar energy the solar cells are converting to electricity. You can see live information on Watts currently generating, how many kWh have been generated over several time periods, and how many pounds of green house gases have been avoided.

You can also check this on any computer connected to the internet at: Data for the SF Food Bank.

The Food Bank will save an estimated $15,000 in electricity cost per year and over $450,000 over the 30 year anticipated life of the system. This money will translate directly into 90,000 pounds of food or more than 72,000 meals each year. The 57.6 kW system is expected to generate 115,000 kWh of clean energy each year and avoid 53,000 pounds of CO2 gases. 

Everybody talks about helping others and saving energy.  By going through the process of having a PV system installed on their roof, the Food Bank is doing both: getting more food into the community while increasing awareness about solar energy.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Tastes Solar Cooking: “Fabulous!”

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008


On Tuesday, March 25, 2008 solar cooking became “mainstream” in California. California Ag Day was held on the west steps of the state Capitol building. This year’s theme was “Decisions Today will be Impacting Tomorrow.” Thousands attended to see booths relating to agriculture in California and healthy eating. Over 1,200 people sampled solar cooked sweet potatoes made by 6th graders from Paradise Intermediate School’s Evergreen 6 program and 4th-5th grade students from Plainfield school in Woodland. Those sampling the solar-oven-made goods included hundreds from the public, celebrity chef Guy Fieri from the Food Network, and several policy makers including assemblymen and the Governor himself! The following story shares some perspectives from that day.

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“Talking to many people at on time about how our solar ovens work and what we came to do that day, was hard, but soon got easier as the day wore on. I started to say the same thing over and over again, and had to find something new to say. When I found something that sounded right, I would start to say that over again and would start the process again. Near the end of the day, the governor came around to all the booths to try the great food and listen to people talking about the agriculture of California. At first I was nervous, but near the end of my part of the speech, it was just like talking to a regular person.” Serenity Fitzgerald, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6


“On Tuesday March 25, 2008, Evergreen 6 took thirteen students to the California State Agriculture day. I was one of those lucky thirteen students to attend. Serenity Fitzgerald and I recited the following speech: ‘Hello, would you like to try a sweet potato that we have made in our solar ovens? We are a solar school in Paradise, California and our name is Evergreen 6. We are a solar school because we have a solar panel at our school and we have sixteen ovens that we have cooked in today.’ Little did we know that one of the people we would be reciting this speech to was the governor of California: Arnold Schwarzenegger! After he tried one he said, ‘Good job. Fabulous, keep up the good work.’ Serenity and I shook his hand and then he moved on. The task of serving the governor was exciting and rewarding.”
Jennifer Olson, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6


“In Sacramento, at the California on Agriculture Day, I was cooking sweet potato fries. We cooked them at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. We cooked 30 bags of them. The normal temperature for cooking them is 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 18-20 minutes. Since our ovens did not get that hot we had to make do with what we had. It was very quick going after a while. We put salt and pepper on the fries. We served them on toothpicks and in cups.”
Cooper Hawkley, 6th Grade – Evergreen 6

“Our students were thrilled to serve Governor Schwarzenegger some of our solar-baked fries and tell him about our solar oven project. The students working at the serving table, Jennifer and Serenity were very professional and did an awesome job talking to the governor, as well as all of the other visitors to our booth. Other students kept an eye on the food as it cooked in the sun and talked to passers-by about how the solar ovens cook food using only the energy form the sun. Watching our students educate others about the importance of conservation and renewable energy was a powerful experience!”
Amy Behlke, a teacher from Evergreen 6

“The students really stole the show. They were incredibly professional and well prepared. I am so proud that they are part of the PG&E Solar Schools Program.”
Karalee Browne, Charitable Contributions/ Solar Schools Program Manager

students-being-interviewed.jpg oven-cooking-sign.jpg students-being-interviewed2.jpgA PG&E “Bright Ideas Grant” made the students’ purchase of 16 sun ovens possible. These durable yet portable ovens will bake virtually anything you can bake in your home oven and they use zero electricity! The project is aimed at teaching students to understand solar and renewable energy through hands-on activities. One goal of the project is to sell baked items, then use the proceeds to send more solar ovens to a remote village in Africa. With PG&E’s help, the students are on their way to sending a second oven! Another goal of the project is to increase awareness of solar energy.


As a major sponsor of the event, PG&E did more than just “talk the talk.” “What better, and fun way, to illustrate the impact renewable power can make on our future than to have a celebrity chef instruct our future leaders on the importance of healthy eating by using solar power?” said Vice President of Civic Partnerships and Community Initiatives Ophelia Basgal.While a solar trailer powered the California Ag Day sound system, celebrity chef, Guy Fieri was cooking in a solar-powered kitchen. His enthusiasm and energy were contagious. He mingled with the crowd, happily signing autographs and talking with fans.


An event like this does not happen without hard work and great organization. There are many at PG&E that created this perfect “solar storm.” A special thanks to the following:

  • Event Planners: Susie Martinez, Tracy Gremillion
  • Solar Schools Program Manager: Karalee Browne
  • Public Affairs: Dan Kim
  • Area Support: Dolly Hazel, Jeannette Ho (Helmet)
  • News Support Jennifer Ramp , Paul Moreno

In the end, the day exceeded everyone’s expectations. Greg Holman, another teacher from Evergreen 6 adds, “The students were extremely excited to be part of California Ag Day. As the hundreds in attendance started to crowd around the solar ovens, they began to see that they were truly sharing something most people are not aware of. Many asked where they could buy their own solar oven, and even more walked away with a huge smile. Not only was the food delicious, it was made virtually carbon-free! Solar cooking on the Capitol steps seems like it could not be topped. Add to that the huge interest in solar cooking, friendly celebrity chef Guy Fieri, and a visit by a genuinely interested celebrity governor! Everyone involved will never forget that day….”



The Lone Star State’s TXU Energy Launches a New Solar Academy

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008


A press conference was held in Cleburne, Texas to kick off the TXU Energy Solar Academy on March 7th. It was well attended by regional and local media with representatives from 3 newspapers, and 2 TV channels. Jim Burke, the TXU Energy CEO, spoke of their commitment to the community and to helping customers of all age groups understand Texas’ energy choices. He was followed by Texas Representative Rob Orr, Mayor Ted Reynolds, Teacher Carol Jenkins, and student Brad Blevins who spoke of the donations impact on local education and the opportunities the information generated will apply.

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The TXU Energy Solar Academy will provide a 1 kW solar array to each of 40 school districts across Texas and train up to 40 school teachers at each district on NEEDs solar curriculum. Furthermore, each teacher will receive a Science of Energy kit and a grade-appropriate solar hands-on kit. The TXU Energy Solar Academy website is at You can see what the Cleburne system is doing, and learn more about the program here-

Here’s the full press release.