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Solar use heating up

With the sun out in force, rising energy prices and rebate deadlines approaching, a growing number of local businesses, homeowners, city governments and now churches are choosing solar power.

Earlier this month, Nevada City unanimously authorized a bid to build solar facilities at its city hall, city yard and swimming pool to take advantage of a state energy commission incentive program that ends Dec. 31.

A new downtown building that will house the county’s district attorney’s office also boasts a solar array.



Using solar power could help make the city energy neutral, said city engineer Bill Falconi.

“A lot of it is driven by pure economics. You can’t pass it up. When we use incentives, it takes the edge off,” Falconi said.




It is the second time the city has gravitated toward alternative energy in recent months. A hydro-electric system is being installed at the city’s sewer treatment plant and should be up and running this fall.

Last week, crews installed a 23,940 watt solar system onto the roof of First Baptist Church in Grass Valley, said Martin Webb, owner of Plan it Solar.

Energy costs have risen an average of 6 percent annually for the church since 2000, said church member Bob Williams.

“We see no end in sight for increases for electrical usage from PG&E,” Williams said.

First Baptist’s new system will provide about 25 percent of the church’s annual energy needs, Webb said.

Financial savings were the driving force the older congregation decided to refinance its bank loan to pay for the $105,000 new system after rebate, said church member Bob Williams.

When purchased outright, a solar system like this will pay for itself in 11 years and protect against future rate hikes.

Peace Lutheran Church also is trying to raise money for a system it has secured a rebate for, Webb said.

Sales of tankless and thermal hot water heaters are also on the rise as people scramble to take advantage of a federal energy tax credit ending this year, said Jason Gracia of Sierra Solar, a company that has 11 solar jobs on the books for this summer.

“Because of the rise in gas prices, people are more attuned to energy costs,” Gracia said.

Though many show interest in the technology, a depressed economy and wait-and-see attitude is holding others back, Gracia said.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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