Archive for the 'Perspectives' Category

San Mateo Girl’s Camp

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Story and photos provided by Glen Kizer 

It is okay to know you are not perfect/it is not okay to think that anyone else should be.


The number one thing that makes me mad is this idea that we can divide everything up into two sides.  People are not either “good or bad” and teams are not either “great or horrible”…  There are ways to settle disputes other than “giving up or going to war.”  There is no clear line between “clean air and jobs” because renewable energy projects like wind farms, energy efficiency, and solar energy installations can reduce pollution and create jobs.  There are more people who make mistakes than people who never make mistakes, and people who make mistakes are not always bad people.  And not everyone who makes a mistake should go to prison. 

I learned a lot about this principle when I recently visited one of the most beautiful places on Earth, San Mateo County just south of San Francisco in the great State of California.  I was there to take pictures of a solar electricity installation that PG&E had donated to the County of San Mateo.  I took the pictures and some of them are posted here.  But this is not a school in the traditional sense of a neighborhood public school that PG&E typically gives these pole mounted solar electricity systems that are commonly known as “Solar on a Stick”.  I stayed longer to learn more about this special school. There are girls (yes I am calling them girls, but I am tricking you and you will understand this in a minute or two) in the San Mateo Girls’ Camp in San Mateo, California. 

It is probably why they call it the “Girls’ Camp.”  They also have a “Boys’ Camp.”  The Margaret J Kemp Camp for Girls is a place for young women who are not perfect.  They are juveniles that might otherwise end up in incarceration.  In San Mateo they can end up in this camp.  In response to a growing need for female gender-responsive services in the late 1990s, in 2001 the Probation Department launched the GIRLS program (Gaining Independence and Reclaiming Lives Successfully).  (see the trick…the word “girls” stands for something else)  The program involves three stages: an individualized, 180-day residential program and two community-based supervision phases.  The residential program is housed in the Girls’ Camp.  To get into the Girls’ Camp, young women in San Mateo who are not perfect have to do imperfect things.  When a girl is convicted of one or more criminal offenses, the Juvenile Court can order her to a 190-day stay at Camp Kemp.  The girls at the Camp have backgrounds that include one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Repeated probation violations
  • Multiple runaways from home or placements
  • Substance abuse
  • Victimization (child abuse or neglect, domestic violence in the home or in a relationship, trauma)
  • Emotional issues or mental health diagnoses

Going to this camp does not mean these young women are bad. It just means they need help. It is perfectly acceptable to need help. The wonderful people who run this camp understand this concept. Their mission goes like this, “We believe our adolescent girls are valuable and worthy of our communities’ support.  We provide sustainable resources and programs that promote the process of healing, educating, and empowering each girl to achieve her greatest potential in her community.” It is a perfect situation.

In San Mateo we have a few young women who need some assistance.  So, the County of San Mateo creates a camp where these young women can get help. The staff is great and the facilities are remarkable. It is like a college campus and the classrooms are like college classrooms. The young women can walk around on the beautiful grounds and there is a gymnasium and there is supervision, but it is subtle. There is security, but I saw no bars on any windows. It seems like a safe place without being stifling. Camp Kemp offers a number of special services and programs:

  • Independent Living Program (a weekly class that teaches practical skills such as financial management and decision making)
  • The Art of Yoga (yoga practice and art projects, three times per week)
  • Girls Circle (a relationship-based communication model that includes group sharing and problem-solving
  • “Tool Box” group (discussion group where girls share the challenges and successes of their recent home pass experience)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (on site)
  • Mentoring
  • Play writing
  • Field trips
  • Book club

Behavioral Health programming includes:

  • Comprehensive assessment and case planning
  • Multi-Family Group, a 16-week Saturday program that engages parents, caregivers, and girls in improving their relationships
  • Individual counseling
  • Family therapy

A girl can receive counseling and therapy on a number of issues, depending on her needs as identified in her case plan:

  • Anger management
  • Impulse control
  • Communication skills
  • Healthy relationships
  • Body image and self-care strategies
  • Nutrition and healthy eating
  • Employment
  • Safe sex and HIV
  • Grief and loss
  • Domestic violence and teen dating
  • Transition to the community

And the unbelievable people who run this Girls’ Camp (I love saying this because it is one of the few times I can use the word “girls” and not get yelled out for not using the words “young women”) have decided that these young women should learn how to grow flowers, plants and food and to take care of a garden and learn to cook food they grow and to learn to be more sustainable. Toni DeMarco who proposed the garden has a long term vision for the camp and the young women who go through this program.  “We believe that, in a general way, the garden will help the women here learn responsibility and it will be therapeutic.  We believe that growing food and cooking meals from the garden will help teach them specific skills that they will be able to use in the world outside our camp.” To help them learn science and math skills, the Camp applied to PG&E for a solar electricity system that would be installed on the Camp grounds. 


Director Glenda Miller loves the project.  “I love the idea of our young women using sunlight to grow food and using sunlight to create electricity and to eventually use solar cooker that PG&E is sending us to use the sun to cook the food they grow in the garden.  It is the most basic form of sustainability and yet it can help teach the most complex concepts of math and science.  And our young women will be able to say that they generated part of the electricity they are using for their lighting and to power their televisions and computers.  How many people can say that?  We have great expectations for this project.” Now I cannot suggest that you stop in and visit this camp because it is a secure area.  But even if you cannot go there, you can trust me that there are a lot of young women who need a little assistance and who are getting a great deal more.


Lincoln Park Zoo – Chicago, Illinois

Monday, June 16th, 2008

By Katie Kizer (photos provided by Chris Gerke)img_1435_web.jpgFew would debate the fact that a bustling urban neighborhood offers a wide range of learning opportunities.  One could ask, what better way to teach our young children about renewable energy than to take a preexisting learning domain in the middle of a city and install a successful renewable energy project?  In Lincoln Park, a Chicago neighborhood with families and young children, there is a zoo nestled between the water’s edge on Lake Michigan and the city streets.  Lincoln Park Zoo is free to the public, providing an open invitation for children to learn about animals during non-school hours.  A solar project has been installed on the large red barn, located in the Farm-in-the-Zoo presented by John Deere  as part of the Illinois Solar Schools initiative.  So as the kids view goats, pigs, and cows in this farm wonderland, they are also learning about alternative energies.  Parents can bring children to the zoo and large groups can visit without financial burden because admission is free.  People can even avoid the cost of parking if they opt to take public transportation or walk.  These kids are learning, in a fun way, something many parents and teachers work very hard to achieve.  What makes this project so fascinating is that it is a zoo with all the wonderful possibilities just mentioned, and it is part of the Illinois Solar Schools project!  What a refreshing alliance! img_1432_web.jpg When I visited Lincoln Park Zoo this spring, I witnessed endless groups of children making their way through the weaving paths of the farm with wonder and excitement.  I sat for a moment on the bench near the solar project and observed the integration of these learning tools.  Such collaboration between a school and a zoo is inventive and inspirational, paving the way for future public domains to become learning environments for young people.  Installing solar panels at Lincoln Park Zoo is a way to implement the notion of renewable energy into the child’s upbringing, instilling in them a concept that many adults are struggling to grasp even today.Lincoln Park Zoo is also participating in many other green activities, including steps towards emitting fewer pollutants into the air, water and energy conservation efforts, energy efficient adjustments to their buildings, recycling, and many other proactive efforts to set a positive example for the community.  While I was in the visitor center discussing the solar project with the friendly Lincoln Park Zoo staff, I even noticed a battery recycling bin at my feet.  img_1434_web.jpgIt is the little things like this that truly foster education about “greening” within the general public.  So while skipping through the zoo marveling at the zebras and monkeys, the children, along with their parents, are absorbing an enormous amount of environmentalism.  Funding for the Illinois Solar Schools project was provided in large part by Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and Commonwealth Edison.  More information about this project including live data is available at 


Thursday, May 29th, 2008

21 May 2008
San Franciscans celebrated the new PG&E Solar Schools and were honored last week.  The San Francisco Sentinel wrote a great story, and we wanted to share the news with you!

Students from 18 San Francisco Schools Get Hands-On Solar Energy


Pacific Gas and Electric Company today joined Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Superintendent of Schools Carlos Garcia to honor eighteen Solar School recipients during a Green Energy Fair and Solar Celebration at Presidio Middle School in the Richmond district.

The event also featured a solar oven and interactive games for the students.

“By teaching children the value of clean and renewable energy, we are ensuring a more sustainable future for our City and our planet,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.


“I congratulate PG&E for their commitment to outfit our schools and educate our students.”

Since 2004, a total of 18 San Francisco schools have been awarded solar photovoltaic (PV) systems as part of PG&E’s Solar Schools program. Each PV system generates 1.3 kilowatts of electricity, or enough to provide for the power needs of an entire classroom.

“In my role as Superintendent of San Francisco schools, I value programs that bring environmental awareness to children’s lives,” said San Francisco Superintendent of Schools Carlos Garcia.

Mayor Newsom, Helen Burt, with San Francisco Schools
Superintendent Carlos Garcia

“We appreciate PG&E’s generosity in bringing solar power to our San Francisco schools.”

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the power of solar energy with San Francisco’s current and future leaders,” said Helen Burt, senior vice president and chief customer officer for PG&E.

“As we seek to address the challenges of climate change, inspiring our children about the importance of environmental stewardship is critical. We also want to thank the participating teachers and schools who make this goal possible with their support and dedication,” stated Burt.

The PG&E Solar Schools Program includes installation of photovoltaic systems in public schools, a solar-based curriculum training package, workshops for teachers and “Bright Ideas” grants, which support innovative solar science projects in classrooms.

Since its inception in 2004, PG&E has contributed $6 million to this shareholder-funded program, which includes 100 schools and has trained over 2,000 teachers, benefiting nearly 100,000 students throughout PG&E’s northern and central California service area.

PG&E recognizes that local schools, particularly in underserved communities, face unprecedented financial challenges. The Solar Schools Program is one of the ways PG&E is planning for the future.

The program brings together the company’s commitment to renewable energy, energy efficiency and education in a way that benefits students and the community for years to come.

PG&E’s award-winning Solar Schools Program is nationally recognized for teaching the value of alternative energy. The Solar Schools Program has been awarded the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s IREC Annual Innovation award, named “Education Innovator of the Year” by the San Francisco Business Times and received the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, California’s highest and most prestigious environmental honor.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation, is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the United States. Based in San Francisco, with 20,000 employees, the company delivers some of the nation’s cleanest energy to 15 million people in northern and central California. For more information, visit

PG&E San Francisco Solar Schools

Schools Receiving Solar Generation Systems:
Starr King Elementary
Lawton Elementary School
Lafayette Elementary School
Sunset Elementary
Creative Arts Charter
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Middle School
Marshall Elementary School
Argonne Elementary School
Bessie Carmichael
Gateway High School
Alvarado Elementary School
AP Giannini Middle School
Balboa High School
Frank McCoppin Elementary School
Lakeshore Elementary School
Life Learning Academy Charter
Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School
Presidio Middle School

For more information about PG&E Solar Schools Program, please visit our web site at

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.

Sometimes a “Thank you” is really more than just a polite thing to say.

Thursday, May 1st, 2008


Story submitted by Karalee Browne

It is one of my favorite events of the year: Our Solar Schools March “Science” Madness Event. Teachers from throughout PG&E’s service territory gather in Sacramento to learn how to incorporate solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources into their everyday lesson plans. At this particular event, we also honor the new Solar Schools and Bright Ideas Winners. The day is full of such and incredible “energy” only a group of teachers can create. There is brainstorming, networking, and wonderful ideas swirling in the air. You can hear whispers of “Congratulations” and “Thank yous” throughout the room. But it was one “Thank you” in particular that I will never forget.

I was sitting at the registration table when Melanie Moreno of Niles Elementary in Fremont came up to me with a “Thank you” that really touched me. Ms. Moreno is a Bright Ideas grant winner. In the Fall of 2006, she received $2,500 to support a science lab project that benefits more than 400 students each year. At each grade level, students participate in a unit focusing on solar energy. The energy units vary in length from four to ten weeks, depending upon grade level. In every unit students engage in hands-on, standards-based activities, which introduce them to the nature and importance of solar energy to our lives and our planet. Ms. Moreno gave such a heart-felt thank you saying that without the PG&E grant, this program would not be possible. She went on to thank me for the training we were providing her that day, and said that her only regret about attending was that she was missing her lab day with the students.

I am proud of the opportunities we are able to provide teachers because of the PG&E Solar Schools Program. Since the program began, we have awarded almost $500,000 in grants that go directly to teachers. Their dedication, creativity and enthusiasm continue to amaze me.

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.

explaining-solar-cooking.jpg jennifer-explains-oven.jpg cooking-front-lawn.jpg

“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….”



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