With Big Money at Stake, We Examine the Winners of a Second Round of Portland Clean Energy Fund Grants

Today’s City Council vote is designed to be all or nothing.

Earlier this month, the grant committee at the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund announced its picks for which nonprofit organizations should get tax money to fight climate change, create green jobs, and drive climate investments in low-income communities of color.

The nine-member, all-volunteer committee picked 66 projects totaling $111 million. (The fund has raised $300 million in three years of taxing the sales of large retailers.) The Portland City Council is scheduled to vote on approving the list July 20. Commissioners could ax individual grants this week, but it would be unusual at this stage in the process, city officials said. The vote is designed to be all or nothing.

Here are some of the biggest, most interesting, and strangest winners.

Biggest Grant

Community Energy Project Inc., $10 million over five years

CEP retrofits homes to make them more energy efficient. It proposes to do as many as 50 homes annually for five years, with at least 25 homes a year belonging to BIPOC owners. All systems in a house would be converted to electric. Depending on need, they’d also get things like new insulation, sealing, and even heat pumps, the energy-efficient devices that cool homes in the summer and heat them in the winter. CEP says the upgrades would reduce energy usage by 42% and cut utility bills by 28%.

Most Money per Year

Constructing Hope Pre-Apprenticeship Program, $2.4 million annually

Constructing Hope has been in business for 15 years, running free 10-week training programs in construction work. It hopes to use PCEF money to help more women and low-income people of color start careers in construction. Over the course of three years, Constructing Hope aims to enroll 595 students in pre-apprenticeship training, graduate 475 of them, and place 400 into clean energy and green construction projects. It asked for $7.2 million, or $2.4 million a year.

Most Jargon in the Description

Community Cycling Center, $499,000

It’s hard to knock bicycles in Portland, but PCEF’s description of Community Cycling Center’s project raises more questions than it answers. PCEF said Community Cycling would “give away 60 bikes, fund 14,000 hours of staff time, and provide stipends and logistical support to Black and Latinx community leaders so they can engage in transportation-related system improvement discussions.” Wait, what was that middle part? In an email, Community Cycling executive director Momoko Saunders said the center would give away more than 900 bikes in three years, 60 of which would be paid for by PCEF, and use much of the money to run free summer camps and after-school clubs for low-income youth. “We estimate servicing 2,200 people in our programs for the three-year period,” Saunders wrote. That’s clearer.

Most Likely to Piss Off NW Natural Gas

Hacienda Community Development Corp., $9.4 million

At least five PCEF projects propose to remove gas-powered furnaces or appliances and replace them with electric devices, a move that hurts NW Natural, Oregon’s largest gas seller. Once considered a clean fuel, natural gas is becoming a villain among environmentalists in the state. Hacienda, an affordable housing provider, proposes to upgrade six developments, removing gas heating in as many as 243 units. NW Natural had no comment on the PCEF proposals that take houses and apartments off its gas network.

The “About Time” Award

Friends of Trees, $96,000

Trees are a proven (and time-tested) technology for removing carbon from the atmosphere. The shade they provide also cools cities and can make life more bearable in the “heat islands” that result in neighborhoods with too much pavement. Even so, Friends of Trees, the community tree-planting organization, was snubbed when it asked PCEF for $83,526 from the first round of grants. (As Oregon Public Broadcasting reported last week, the nonprofit was also collateral damage in a pissing match between city bureaus.) This time, PCEF delivered, recommending that the City Council approve a planning grant to serve communities of color. Friends of Trees says its saplings are shovel ready.