Archive for the 'California' Category

The Salinas, Gilroy, Watsonville, Seaside, Santa Cruz, and Pescadero Trip

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Story written by Glen Kizer

PG&E has 100 solar school installations either completely in or being installed as I type this and I decided it was a good time to take a tour of some of the schools south of the Bay Area in order to connect with some new principals and to visit some of the newly installed systems.  At first, I dreaded the long drive, but by the time I pulled out of Pescadero I felt energized.  Here is a personal diary of my trip.  I apologize for interjecting myself into this story, but I couldn’t help myself.  Later, students at each of these schools will write their own blog story so this is kind of my introduction to those blogs that are yet to be written.


I love Salinas.  It is a wonderful place.  Everywhere you look there are enormous farms where almost any kind of food is grown.  It is known as the “Romaine Lettuce Capital of the World,” but I saw lots of other things being grown in these huge fields.  Everything is laid out in this huge valley with hills on both sides and this lush agricultural empire covering the valley in all directions.  It is a beautiful sight to see.

The PG&E Solar School in Salinas is appropriately enough inside a garden behind the Monterey Park Elementary School.  It was one of the first schools in the PG&E program.  Chris Banks is the principal and she was the principal at the time the installation was completed in 2005.

Monterey Park Elementary School includes grades k-6 and houses 566 students and 24 teachers.  100% of the teachers have their full credentials.  The average teacher experience level is 20 years!


A half hour north of Salinas I came upon the City of Gilroy, California.  Gilroy is great.  It is the “Garlic Capital of the World” and everywhere you go there are signs and pictures of garlic.  The solar installation there is one of the 2007-2008 schools.

James Maxwell is the principal and Rob Mendiola is the key contact for us on the district level.  Mr. Mendiola coordinated the installation.

The Gilroy High School campus is huge.  It is Grades 9-12, but there are more than 2,500 students on this one campus.

School has not yet started for the Fall, 2008 session so everyone was running around getting everything ready.  One of the young women from the soccer team was there with her mother, Katherine McBride, who is a local realtor with Coldwell Banker and they agreed to pose for a picture in front of the solar panels.  Thanks guys.


Leaving Gilroy I went over the hill on the 128 to Watsonville.  Watsonville is a wonderful place.  The cities in the valley base a large amount of their economic life on farming.  Cities on the coast base a lot of their economic livelihood on tourists, fishing, and boating.  Watsonville has it all.  It is on the Pacific Ocean and there are people who are connected directly to the water, but there are huge farms.   I even followed one of the trucks loaded with something, but I could never get close enough to get out of my car to ask the driver what was in the boxes.  (Is it illegal to take pictures while driving?)

The PG&E Solar School in Watsonville is Ohlone Elementary and like Monterey Park in Salinas it was installed in 2005.  Unlike Monterey Park, Ohlone has a different principal now than when the installation was originally completed.  The Principal at Ohlone is Gloria Miranda and I have included a picture here that I took in her office.

There are 437 students in the k-5 Ohlone school.  It is a wonderful school and a beautiful campus.  All of the teachers are so nice.  When I first got there, Gloria was walking around the campus and I went out to find her.  As I walked around the buildings, teachers kept volunteering to help me find her.   They were so busy trying to get ready for the students coming back to school this month and yet they went out of their way to try and help me.

But the most interesting thing about my visit was the farm directly across from the school.  It was an unusual plant growing for what looked like miles so I asked what was the plant growing there.  The answer surprised me.  Artichokes!  For the first time in my life I was up close and I almost touched a growing artichoke plant.

(I only touch vegetables with a fork.)


Down south on CA-1 just a few miles is a cluster of three beautiful communities on Monterey Bay.  The largest of these three communities is Monterey which has a huge waterfront and a fantastic aquarium.  The smallest city is Sand City.  I stopped in Sand City to buy a Diet Coke and there is sand everywhere.  The final city is Seaside where the PG&E Solar Schools Program has a “solar on a stick” installation at Highland Elementary.  It is in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.  The students are “The Superstars!”

Highland has a new principal, Ms Taffra Purnsely, and the day I was at the school was also the first day of class.  The phones went out and the web site was overloaded and was failing to load.  But everyone seemed calm even with all of the “first day back at school” gyrations.  The school administration seemed to take everything in stride.

The school consists of grades k-5 and has 437 students.

Santa Cruz

Driving back up CA-1 and past those artichoke farms in front of Ohlone Elementary in Watsonville, I came to De LaVeaga Elementary in the ocean front community of Santa Cruz, California.  De LaVeaga consists of k-5 classes and has 577 students.  De LaVeaga also has a new principal, Ms Ruth Smith.  De LaVeaga is another of the 2004-2005 schools in the first round of the PG&E Solar Schools Program.

What I love about this solar school project is the way they had the installation sited in their school garden.  It is a beautiful setting, but they are serious about their garden.  Many of the PG&E “solar on a stick” installations have gone into gardens according to teachers because “the plants reach up to grab the sunlight in order to grow in the same way that the PV panels reach out to capture sunlight in order to generate electricity.”  This one is a particularly nice one.


Continuing north up the CA-1 (I did stop at the University of California at Santa Cruz which is one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen.  There are redwood trees and some of the buildings are very contemporary and the entire campus overlooks the same Monterey Bay.), I drove by some of my favorite parts of California and I love California.  Driving along the coast to Pescadero, there are waves crashing onto beaches and rocks and there was a fantastic blue sky and a whole lot of sun.

The school is technically an elementary + middle school combined to be the Pescadero Elementary and Middle School with 195 total students.  Patty Able is the principal and I took a picture of her at her desk and I have included it here.

My favorite story of the day took place in Pescadero.  I stopped for a Diet Coke at a restaurant in downtown Pescadero.  I was not 100% sure how to get to the school so I asked some young women at a booth in the restaurant if they knew where the elementary school was located.  They said “Go down this street and turn right.  You can’t miss it.  There is a huge solar array on a pole in front of the school.”

We had become a landmark.  Later as I drove away after meeting with Ms Able, I saw the young ladies walking down the street and they all waved to me like they were glad they could help.  Pescadero is a small town 5 minutes from the Pacific Ocean and yet the nice small town people could be living in Ohio or Illinois or Texas.  I love big cities and there is a lot to do in San Francisco and Oakland and San Jose, but those big hearted small town people are hard to beat.

And that was my entire trip.

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 (

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.



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.

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