Portland City Council approved $107 million in clean energy grants Wednesday, the largest single investment in climate-related projects in the city’s history. The grants are funded through the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF), a first-of-its-kind program that uses a surcharge on large retailers in the city to fund green energy projects that prioritize low-income Portlanders and communities of color.
Last week, council members interrogated the grant recommendations and progress in grant vetting the program has made since PCEF was widely criticized for awarding a grant last year to a nonprofit whose director's experience could not be verified. To address any lingering hesitancy, Commissioner Carmen Rubio—who oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) which houses PCEF—directed PCEF staff to preform additional review all of the approved grant recipients over the next 45 days. If the second review process reveals any red flags about the recipients, BPS director Donnie Oliveira has the authority to revoke the grant before any money is officially awarded.
"We can both immediately invest in climate resiliency and carefully develop a responsive, accountable program," said Rubio Wednesday. "These are not mutually exclusive goals."
Here’s where the money is going and a few projects of note.
$63.38 million for clean energy
Majority of PCEF’s annual funding—anywhere from 40 to 60 percent—is directed toward projects that contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through clean energy transitions. The grants range from $232,056 to nearly $10 million and are anticipated to reduce or avoid 300,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the projects’ lifetime.
• $1.7 million to Albina Vision Trust for the Albina One affordable housing project—the construction of 94 units of affordable housing that will mark the beginning of redevelopment in lower Albina. The PCEF grant will fund heat pump systems, solar panels, and other energy efficient appliances as part of the larger project.
• $9.99 million to nonprofit Community Energy Project (CEP), an energy efficiency-focused nonprofit, to conduct major energy retrofits for 40 to 50 low-income homeowners annually for five years. This project is an expansion of CEP’s previous PCEF project, which conducted retrofits on 20 Black-owned homes.
• $389,588 to Roots and Beats Project, a bilingual music education organization, to retrofit an abandoned warehouse to serve as a justice and arts education center that can double as a heating and cooling space for unhoused Portlanders during extreme weather events. The grant will fund solar panels, a heat pump, insulation, LED lighting, and other energy-related upgrades.
$26.05 million for workforce and contract development
Part of PCEF’s mission is to create more opportunities for low-income people, Portlanders of color, and other underserved populations within the clean energy workforce. According to PCEF manager Sam Baraso, this funding area received the highest level of applications in comparison to its available funding.
• $1.8 million to youth mentorship nonprofit Leaders Become Legends to develop a green workforce development program that provides mentorship, personal development, and clean industry skills to Black and Indigenous Portlanders, including those who were formerly incarcerated, unhoused, or impacted by gang or domestic violence. The program intends to train 60 to 80 people over four years.
• $7.2 million to Constructing Hope Pre-Apprenticeship Program, a nonprofit that teaches construction skills, to train low-income Portlanders of color and women in construction trades that focus on green energy projects. Over three years, the project plans to enroll 595 people in training, graduate 475, and place 400 into employment.
• $355,783 to LatinoBuild, a trade association for Latino contractors, to provide bi-lingual training and one-on-one mentorship in the green building industry to Latinx contractors. Over two years, the program plans to provide technical training to 20 to 32 Latinx contracting businesses.
$10.96 million for renewable agriculture and green infrastructure
Put simply, this project area funds putting green things in the ground. Restricted to 10 percent of the total funding by PCEF’s rules, just six projects fall under this category.
• $3.69 million to the Native American Youth and Family Center to convert 4.2 acres of former baseball fields into a diversified farm, plant medicine garden, community gathering space, and playscape focusing on Indigenous communal activities and native land cultivation.
• $1.7 million to Black Futures Farm to convert two existing farms into a net-zero greenhouse gas impact farming system. The farm site will use solar panels and other regenerative agriculture technologies and be available as a community demonstration of net-zero farming.
$5.26 million for innovation grants
Innovation grants deal with transportation-related projects or other climate-related projects that don’t neatly fit into other funding areas. Transportation emissions account for about 40 percent of Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions.
• $20,000 to Bikes for Humanity PDX to provide 100 refurbished bikes and u-locks to youth in foster care, people experiencing homelessness, and other marginalized people. The bikes will be distributed by partner organizations that already work with the target audience.
• $3.52 million to nonprofit Metropolitan Family Service to create electric vehicle and e-bike incentives and research low-income communities perceptions about electric vehicles in order to promote adoption of emission-free modes of transportation.
$1.56 million for planning grants
In its smallest funding pool, PCEF is funding 16 planning grants to build the foundation of future projects. Generally, organizations that receive a planning grant are expected to apply for a PCEF grant to implement the planned project the following year.
• $100,000 to 7 Waters Canoe Family to create plans to acquire land to restore with native plants, wildlife, and native farming practices.
• $99,082 to the Black Educational Achievement Movement to lay the groundwork for solar-powered emergency preparedness hubs at three sites in Northeast and East Portland. The hubs would be sited at Black community centers.
• $69,478 to disability rights organization Community Vision to find opportunities for people with disabilities to work in the green industry and provide training to clean energy employers on how to properly support employees with disabilities.
$200,000 for mini grants
Mini grants are distributed throughout the year and capped at $5,000 each. Previous mini grant examples include funding for a solar-powered generator for the Indigenous Peoples’ Market and sending an organization's staff to clean energy training.
Council also approved $10 million, or 10 percent of the total grant funding amount, as contingency funding as directed by PCEF code.
A complete list of all 65 approved grants can be found here.