Portland Clean Energy Fund greenlights $120 million for second round of grants

The Portland City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the second round of grants from the Portland Clean Energy Fund. The funding will support projects including clean energy retrofits for eligible residents’ homes, regenerative agriculture, green infrastructure, and green technology training.

“We have become a global model of what local governments can do to address climate change with communities that have been and continue to be historically impacted by climate change and are significantly under-resourced,” said the Commissioner. Carmen Rubio, who oversees the fund.

Shiny Flanary, left, Letty Martinez and Xochitl Garnica, right, clear a section of land on their 2-acre farm on Sauvie Island. The Portland Clean Energy Fund will support a series of climate-focused projects.

Cassandra Profita

A total of 141 organizations submitted 162 applications ranging from $20,000 to $10 million. Originally, 66 proposals were recommended for a total of $111 million, but one recipient withdrew. Fund staff can recommend up to 10% more than the funding requested by the recipient, but the fund cannot exceed a total of $121,964,895.

Critics of the climate action program say the fund needs more accountability and transparency to ensure money is well spent by recipients.

During the meeting, Commissioner Rubio introduced a clause that requires staff to delay the distribution of funds for 45 days to allow for an additional review process. This may include additional reference checks for new organizations and additional reviews for organizations claiming more than twice their previous annual revenue or that are three years old or less.

Despite two delays to a vote after city council started late and a fire alarm went off within the first hour of the meeting, the second round is a significant increase from the first round of beneficiaries, which totaled $8.6 million. Initial funding was distributed among 38 nonprofit organizations.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty applauded the work done by staff and community organizations to launch the program. But she rejected the further review process.

“If we’re going to put additional barriers on recipients because they happen to be community members of color, I would reject that explicitly,” she said.

Hardesty, who helped create and adopt the scheme, said the fund has come under scrutiny since its inception and hopes this is the last time the board makes adjustments to make the happy people.

“I think we actually need to set a standard and keep everybody at the same standard and not do something different because there are entities that don’t want to contribute to the Portland Clean Energy Fund and don’t want to that he succeeds. ,” she says.

One-of-a-kind program

The Climate Justice Program is managed by the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. It was approved by 65% ​​of voters in 2018. It was estimated that the fund would generate between $40 million and $60 million on a 1% tax on large retailers. But it has generated tens of millions more – so far, a total of $180 million in two years. This has allowed the second set of recipients to request more money for their projects, according to program manager Sam Baraso.

The fund continues to face challenges. More recently, The Oregonian reported that the fund failed to publicly disclose all grant applications on the fund’s website, as required by city code.

Magan Reed, spokesperson for the Portland Office of Planning and Sustainability, said when the program implemented a new process for submitting grant applications for its second round, it required staff to use different coding. on its website to add the requests.

“We expect to have the full round of applications online next week,” Reed said in an emailed statement. “Nominations will be posted, in accordance with city code, following the council’s final vote. This practice is consistent with when the information was released after the first round.

The OPB asked for nominations before the vote. Reed shared 14 applications, which together represent more than $3 million in grants, she said.

In an emailed statement, Commissioner Rubio said she was committed to ensuring the fund operated with “unprecedented responsibility, accountability and transparency”. She said the city code does not specify when nominations must be released to the public, but agrees that it should. Rubio said nominations have been available to commissioners, the mayor and council staff for a month.

Last year, the Portland City Council voted to cancel the fund’s first major grant after reports of earlier misconduct by the organization’s executive director. This prompted the program to add an additional review phase for grant applications, but background checks were not required. In March, Portland Business Alliance CEO Andrew Hoan called on the city to suspend spending on the program and reconsider how funds should be distributed.

64 projects approved

Of the 64 projects approved, the Forth Green Energy and Mobility Project is a $3.6 million grant over three years that will be in partnership with Hacienda Community Development Corporation and Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers.

A cooling/heating unit installed in an apartment on June 27, 2022, provided by the Portland Clean Energy Fund in conjunction with Verde.  Verde units are available for people over the age of 60, with a medical condition that may be affected by heat, and/or who live alone.

A cooling/heating unit installed in an apartment on June 27, 2022, provided by the Portland Clean Energy Fund in conjunction with Verde. Verde units are available for people over the age of 60, with a medical condition that may be affected by heat, and/or who live alone.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

Executive Director Jeff Allen said the organization plans to upgrade Helping Hands’ Bybee Lake Hope Center by adding solar panels and upgrading to a more energy-efficient air conditioning system. He said it would help reduce energy bills and protect residents during heat waves.

But what Allen said he’s most excited about is a fleet of 30 shared e-bikes for center residents.

“It’s almost a mile from the nearest bus stop, which has very infrequent levels of service,” he said. “So it’s very difficult for people who live there to access any kind of services, whether it’s a 12-step program, a doctor’s appointment, or a job interview, and so these e-bikes are really going to be a game-changer in helping these people access services.

Allen said this project grew out of an earlier planning grant with PCEF that allowed Forth to work with more community organizations to better understand their needs and challenges and how Forth could help them.

Allen said the fund made his application process even more thorough. He said it showed that the fund cared not only about whether the project was good or where the funds were going, but also about the capacity of the partner organizations and whether they were involved in the project development process.

But he acknowledged that the fund is still reorganizing itself and finding new ways to improve its processes.

“You see a lot of really interesting, innovative and impactful projects coming out of this process already and I’m sure they will continue to improve the process and refine the goals and it’s just going to get better over time,” said he declared. said.

At last week’s city council meeting, Mayor Ted Wheeler asked about the application process and greater accountability, as he said there had been “notable issues” during the first round of financing.

“It’s a substantial sum of taxpayers’ money, it’s to go towards an important cause, it’s our collective responsibility to make sure that this funding is spent wisely,” he said during Of the reunion.

Wheeler said he was glad the fund had clear benchmarks for what would qualify an organization to receive a grant. He also praised the fund for its improvements on the applications and review process – including the number of homes that will receive clean energy retrofits to reduce carbon emissions.

But he asked how the fund would ensure grants are spent wisely. He said the fund also deserves close scrutiny as it continues to grow.

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