PORT TOWNSEND â€” When Mike Loriz was serving as a Navy fighter pilot during the first Gulf War, he thought he was working to rid Kuwait of an unwelcome invader.
â€śHowever, one relative wrote that she was proud of me for serving, but wished it was not a case of fighting for oil,â€ť Loriz wrote recently in a letter to Port Townsendâ€™s Historic Preservation Committee.
â€śWith hindsight, I realized she could have a point. Since then, I have considered it to be a mandatory responsibility to use the sun and wind for power as much as possible.â€ť
In that letter, Loriz, who serves as 1st vice commander of American Legion Post 26 in downtown Port Townsend, asked the committee to support the Legionâ€™s plan to install an array of solar panels on the southeast side of the 1941 buildingâ€™s roof.
At its Tuesday meeting, the committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of the project, a decision that ultimately rests with the director of the cityâ€™s Development Services Department, Lance Bailey.
John McDonagh, a senior planner with the department who acts as a liaison to the committee, said he expects the project will be approved in the next couple of weeks with the condition that a building permit is obtained.
â€śI think the general feeling among the committee members was that weâ€™re in a time of doing things differently and that taking strategies to combat climate change are important,â€ť said Richard Berg, who chairs the committee tasked with reviewing development proposals within the cityâ€™s historic districts.
Loriz said he couldnâ€™t agree more, especially in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which forced the Legion to close its doors and the bar that accounts for most of its revenue.
â€śOnce COVID hit, our main source of revenue dried up,â€ť he said, noting the local veterans organization doesnâ€™t expect to reopen until Jefferson County enters Phase 4 of the Gov. Jay Insleeâ€™s paused â€śSafe Startâ€ť plan. â€śThese solar panels will really help us survive in the long term financially.â€ť
David Campbell Jr., solar project manager at Frederickson Electricâ€™s Cascadia Solar, is handling the project for the Legion. He told the committee the project would offset 68 percent the Legionâ€™s electrical usage, saving the nonprofit $60,000 over 25 years.
â€śThe site would also serve as an example of positive change towards a clean energy future and a step to reduce climate change, nuclear waste and hydropower impacts on salmon,â€ť he wrote in his application to the committee.
The Legion aims to offset the rest of its electrical bill with additional energy-efficiency improvements, Loriz said, including switching all light bulbs to LEDs and replacing its traditional tank-based water heater with a tankless heater.
â€śWeâ€™re on a top-to-bottom efficiency push,â€ť he said. â€śBetween all these things, weâ€™ll be pretty close to carbon neutral, at least as far as electricity goes.â€ť
With little money in the bank, the nearly $50,000 project will be paid for with donations from local Legion members and the community.
In July, Loriz launched a GoFundMe fundraiser to supplement $30,000 in contributions from members.
By early September, Loriz had reach his goal.
â€śWeâ€™re just so grateful for the donations from the community,â€ť he said. â€śThe support has just been fantastic.â€ť
Before he moved to Port Townsend in 2014, Loriz spent five years as commander of Post 281 in Queens, N.Y., before the post was taken over by the city, he said.
â€śWe went bust in the early part of the Great Recession,â€ť he said, citing a national trend of declining membership and rising facility costs that put many American Legion posts in a challenging financial position.
â€śWhen I came out here, I was worried we might be on that same path,â€ť he said. â€śSo a couple of us here at the Legion have been looking at ways to save money.â€ť
Loriz first put solar panels on his home, back in New York, 15 years ago. He did the same when he moved to Port Townsend.
â€śWe make a little more electricity than we use every year, and thatâ€™s a good feeling,â€ť he said. â€śIf we can all do a better job of conserving, going toward wind and solar, we can get away from our whole dependence on oil and save money in the long run.â€ť
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at [emailÂ protected]. <!–