Portland Clean Energy Fund offers up $60M for climate grants

Multnomah County

The city's surcharge on large retailers has collected more cash than it can spend, with at least $100 million in the bank at present

Activists rallied during rush hour in front of the SE 82nd Avenue Walmart in support of the creation of a Portland Clean Energy Fund in 2018. (Jonathan House/PMG)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The city’s climate surcharge has raised a bushel of cash — more than it can spend, in fact.

With a major request for proposals officially announced Tuesday, Sept. 28, the Portland Clean Energy Fund is hoping to pay out $60 million to local nonprofit groups focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The fund — which tacks on a 1% charge to retailers with revenue of $500,000 here and $1 billion nationally — had $109 million in its coffers as of July 1, a sign of how far money collection surpassed the estimates presented to voters who OK’d the ballot measure in late 2018.

Program manager Sam Baraso knows the true figure is higher: “Money is always flowing in,” he said.

City spokeswoman Eden Dabbs says the fund’s dozen employees will distribute the grant funding through a “very laborious, thorough and ethical process.”

“The reason there’s more money in the bank than we are spending is because we have to make sure that we have the capacity to distribute this money the way this initiative intended,” she said. “Over time, we anticipate that the balance sheet will be more balanced.”

By code, roughly 75% of the PCEF pie must go to nonprofits providing clean energy, practicing regenerative agriculture, building green infrastructure or for innovation grants cutting carbon emissions, and its primary beneficiaries must be the poor and people of color. The other quarter is reserved for workforce development in the clean energy sector.

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The PCEF pool has had two previous rounds of funding — a $200,000 round offering capacity building to nonprofit organizations, and an $8.6 million round this spring that funded 45 grants, of which 29 were focused on planning future projects. The other 16 funded energy retrofits of dozens of BIPOC homes, added ductless heat pumps to 200 homes and planted more than 1,000 trees, among other things.

“A lot of these groups are pretty small, they have to scale up too,” said Dabbs.

The nine-member PCEF grant committee acknowledges that transportation decarbonization is not an immediate focus, but has “expressed an interest in exploring potential code changes” to do so down that line, according to records. City officials say there’s already plenty of work to go around, as making every single-family home climate-resilient would cost at least $3 billion.

“Portlanders want climate action rooted in racial justice and economic opportunity,” said Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the fund. “Shifting away from fossil fuels means meaningfully centering more frontline voices and perspectives.”

PCEF expects to allocate the $60 million in March or April of next year, with applicants allowed to seek as much as $10 million over five years. Applications for another $60 million funding round will open next spring, with annual opportunities eventually normalizing at $70 million to $90 million.

Nonprofits who apply for funding are subject to city oversight and must issue quarterly reports to administrators.

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