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Masonic Lodge makes switch to solar

In the heart of Nevada City, on the rooftop of one of the oldest Masonic lodges in the state, 32 solar panels are conserving energy, saving money and setting an example in the historic downtown.

“In this city that likes to think it’s in step with the environmental movement, we’re trying to lead the way,” said Lee Wilbourne, a freemason for 27 years and a member of the Masonic Nevada Lodge No. 13.

The lodge joins a growing number of commercial buildings making the switch to solar as a hedge against rising utility costs.



“For the first time ever, it’s become cost effective,” said Jonathan Hill, owner of the 27-year-old company, Sierra Solar Systems.

Nevada City’s Masonic Lodge was built in 1851 and has the old windows and energy leaks to show for it.




“One of our major expenses was electricity. It’s a tired old building and we had to

make this thing work,” Wilbourne said.

Going solar will promote the South Yuba River Citizens League’s annual

environmental film festival, Wilbourne said. The Masonic Lodge is one of four film-screening venues during the festival.

The lodge had to pay $47,709 up front for the system plus $153 for a county permit and $50 for a city permit. Last week, they received a rebate check from PG&E and the state for $12,646.

Wilbourne expects the solar system to pay back in five years and supply free electricity thereafter.

During the panel’s 25-year lifespan, utility bill savings are expected to reach $146,485.

The Masonic Lodge is one of several businesses in the process of converting to solar energy to cut costs, said Martin Webb, owner of Plan It Solar, the Penn Valley

company that helped the masons in their quest to go green.

This year, four local businesses have reserved a total of 90,000 watts of solar rebates, Web said. Businesses can reserve state rebates if they are not sure they want to go solar and there is no penalty for making the reservation, Webb said.

“We have a different environment than the rest of the country,” Webb said. California has higher utility prices than the rest of the country and lower than normal solar prices because of state programs, he said.

Solar systems can be a hybrid of sorts and zeroing out a utility bill doesn’t have to be the goal, Webb said.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” Webb said.

Instead, a smaller, more affordable system can help shave off the most expensive “tiers” of a utility bill, Webb said.

The solar energy collected from the roof of the Masonic lodge will eliminate 60 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, benefiting the city as a whole, Webb said.

“If you’re spinning backward, you’re supplying the neighborhood with clean power,” Webb said.

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To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail laurab @theunion.com


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