What major organization is taking on the environment and climate change as a major focus? You might answer the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, etc. But it’s also the service club which helped eliminate polio worldwide and is now taking on a new challenge.

According to Holger Knaack, the president of Rotary International: “Whenever we don’t want to put things on the table, we say it is political. The best example is Rotary’s new Seventh Area of Focus, the environment. There are many people saying we shouldn’t talk about climate change because that is political. In my view, it is definitely not political. It is a fact, which is why it is important. If things are obviously wrong, then we have to say so.” Or as the latest issue of Rotary magazine points out, “Protecting the environment has always been important to Rotarians. Now Rotary has made it official.”

There are Rotary Clubs around the world finding ways their members can help. Locally, the San Mateo Rotary Club started action two years ago when two of its members Mitch Williams, CEO of Home Helpers of San Mateo County, and Gary White, longtime climate activist in the Climate Reality Project, formed a Rotary Climate Committee with Rick Raybin, financial planner; John Mathers of San Francisco Rotary; Anne Campbell, former San Mateo County superintendent of schools and several others. They are looking at two major projects.


One is to help fund and expedite solar panels on house tops through microgrid generation of clean energy from solar battery storage. If you don’t understand what that means, here is a simple explanation: a microgrid is a small stand alone power generation and storage unit. The Rotary program will be deploying solar and battery backup. It’s a way of providing a power source using renewable means in a low-cost way. This is similar to a program being offered to all customers of Peninsula Clean Energy through Sunrun in which solar energy is used to reduce energy costs and takers get a $1,250 rebate for installing home solar and battery backup.

Rotary’s program is designed to provide the same kind of solar energy but at a much lower cost, especially to low-income homeowners. Rotary’s climate committee is working with Peninsula Clean Energy and has identified a possible location to try this at North Fair Oaks in Redwood City.

Building on the mission of Peninsula Clean Energy, San Mateo Rotary has also adopted Energize San Mateo, an ambitious initiative to generate all of the electrical energy needed by San Mateo’s residences and commercial businesses from locally generated renewable sources. The goal is to accomplish this within the next 20 years.

San Mateo Rotary’s climate team’s second project is working with San Mateo High School’s student green team on major tree planting on campus. While the club has received some funding, the project will have to wait till fall to do the planting.


As we celebrate Earth Day this Thursday, let’s all take a minute to see how we can help. We know negative impacts have already affected California: Uncontrollable forest fires leading to bad air; continued drought; sea rise which can imperil areas east of Highway 101 including SFO. Here’s my list: Turn off sprinklers; don’t use washer/dryer, dishwasher between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.; walk when possible instead of driving; make my next car electric. If you are lucky enough for your roof to accommodate solar, I would go for it. Unfortunately my old tile roof will not and my energy bill, no matter how careful I am with turning lights off and never turning the heat higher than 65 degrees when it is cold, is astronomical.


Peninsula Clean Energy, or PCE, is San Mateo County’s official electricity provider. PCE was launched collaboratively by the County of San Mateo and all 20 of its cities to meet local climate action goals for sustainable energy.


Rod Linhares will be the new president of San Mateo Rotary for 2021-22. He also is a new member of the San Mateo Library Board. Previously, his major claim to fame was being a guest on Wheel of Fortune and as a college student at Notre Dame being a walkon member of the football team. Professionally, he works for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, doing communications and fundraising. Current president, Susan Winks, is a retired Mission Hospice nurse.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at sue@smdailyjournal.com.

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(2) comments


As a proud Rotarian, I am pleased to see Sue's column raising awareness of another effort to begin to solve a problem effecting all people over the globe - climate change. Hopefully, everyone will each begin to make the small changes necessary to make our planet habitable for the future.

Dirk van Ulden

Isn't it ironic that Sue points out the limitations of providing reliable renewable energy supplies for the Peninsula? It is a pipedream thinking that all of our electric energy can be provided from renewable sources, unless of course, one has an unlimited budget for such energy supplies. Micro grids are great but still need back up. That back up will continue to be provided from reliable sources such as natural gas-fired generation and possibly nuclear. Why the Rotary wants to focus on low income areas is beyond me. PG&E will tell you that those on subsidized rates (the CARE program) use more energy per square foot than those who pay the full bill. There is nothing wrong with the promotion of green energy and taking care of our environment but it will not come cheap. Then there are folks like Sue who have already given up because of tile roofs and other obstacles. The provisions that she is talking about for Earth Day would become a permanent feature of our ever increasing regulated lifestyle. No thanks!

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