In 2018, voters in Portland passed a far-reaching new initiative, the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF). Described as the country's first ever climate fund created and led by communities of color, the fund is expected to invest over $40 million annually on clean energy projects and related workforce and green infrastructure investments, with a specific focus on communities on the "frontline" that suffer greater impacts from climate change but have had less access to clean energy benefits.

After extensive planning, the PCEF has just released an RFP for its first round of funding -- for $8.6 million. Although only a fraction of the amount of annual grants anticipated for future years, the initial grants will signal the start of an innovative approach for securing recurring funding for clean energy projects and related workforce development that prioritizes benefitting traditionally underserved populations.

How the PCEF Works

The PCEF revenue source is a 1 percent surcharge on many large retailers with $1 billion in sales nationally and $500,000 in Portland-specific sales. Although the surcharge was initially expected to generate $55-$71 million per year, after adding exemptions, the City now expects the revenue generated to be $44-$61 million per year.

Recognizing that climate change has a disproportionate impact on low income and communities of color, the fund intends to prioritize these communities and neighborhoods. This prioritization will occur through using the money generated from the surcharge to support projects within affected communities, as well as projects that provide increased job training and support local green infrastructure projects.

Types of Projects

The Clean Energy Fund will provide grants to support programs that meet the following priorities:

  • clean energy projects (including renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, regenerative agriculture and green infrastructure projects),
  • clean energy jobs training, and
  • programs that both reduce greenhouse gases and promote economic, social and environmental benefits.

The Fund's website has included hypothetical examples of the types of projects that could qualify, ranging from solar installations on multifamily housing to shared food gardens and increasing urban tree canopies and green roofs. But the specific types of projects that will be funded remains to be seen. PCEF staff and committee members have made clear that while the program is intended to set priorities and goals, the specific grants will depend upon how the applications received meet the Fund's goals.

Who Are the Decision Makers?

The PCEF is overseen by a mayor-appointed nine-member committee that is designed to represent the diversity of Portland and includes members who are experts in the types of projects the Fund intends to support. The committee will determine which projects get funded and have its decision and awards approved by the city council. No more than 5 percent of the Fund is to be spent on administrative expenses.

Who Is Eligible for the Grants?

Eligible grant recipients are intended to be qualified nonprofit organizations. However, the City code permits – and PCEF personnel have emphasized that the Fund encourages – collaboration between nonprofit and for-profit and government organizations on potential programs "to achieve greenhouse gas reductions in a framework that delivers the related social justice outcomes identified" in the initiative.

How to Apply

The Fund released its initial grant RFP this week, with an application deadline of November 16, 2020. The Fund's website includes extensive details about the grant application process, including key dates in the process. Awards are expected to be announced in February 2021. Notably, the City Code requires all requests for proposals as well as applications to be posted on the committee website.

*Julian McIntosh was a 2020 summer associate for Davis Wright Tremaine’s Portland Office. We thank him for his significant contributions to this blog.