FAQ on changes to PCEF structure

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This FAQ provides information on improvements to the PCEF program structure adopted by City Council on October 26, 2022.
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What is the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF)?

The PCEF initiative was passed by 65% of Portlanders in November 2018. It provides a consistent, long-term funding source and oversight structure for clean energy, green infrastructure, regenerative agriculture, green workforce development, and contractor support investments. These targeted investments ensure that our community’s climate-action efforts are implemented to support social, economic, and environmental benefits for all Portlanders, but prioritizes communities disproportionately impacted by climate change, including communities of color and people with low incomes. The initiative was supported by a broad coalition of groups and individuals and represents the first environmental initiative in Oregon led by communities of color.

Why did the PCEF program structure change?

Based on early lessons learned, in early 2022, Commissioner Rubio directed staff to make recommendations for program improvements that would support achievement of four objectives:

  • Identify changes to enable accelerated funding of carbon reduction projects.

  • Draw clearer and more relevant connections between PCEF and the City of Portland’s carbon reduction goals.

  • Address administrative and operational needs identified by staff and committee.

  • Address audit recommendations.

PCEF staff completed the review process in summer 2022 and provided the recommendations to Commissioner Rubio, who oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and PCEF. Commissioner Rubio and PCEF staff presented the proposed changes at the PCEF Committee meeting on Thursday, September 15. City Council then considered the proposal at two sessions in October 2022, where it received unanimous approval on October 26. Read the approved ordinance.

How are historically underserved communities prioritized?

PCEF firmly maintains its commitment to ensuring investments support the community members who have been historically marginalized and excluded from accessing critical resources needed to live equitably in the city.  Funded projects will continue to prioritize benefits to communities of color, people with low incomes, and other vulnerable members of our community, and will require inclusive workforce goals and strong wage standards. The code improvements more clearly define two types of priority populations, using the same vision as the PCEF ballot initiative: 

  • "Priority populations" for projects that involve physical improvements are low-income communities and communities of color. 
  • "Workforce priority populations" for all the workforce and contractor-development aspects of the PCEF program has a broader definition, and includes people with disabilities, people experiencing gender or sex-based discrimination in the workplace, women and people of color. 

These definitions are used consistently throughout the code to clarify that PCEF projects should prioritize those that serve and are led by organizations that reflect those populations.

Like other City of Portland programs and goals, the PCEF program is on a path of continual process improvement in alignment with the City of Portland’s overall climate and equity goals. PCEF staff will work closely with internal and external stakeholders and the PCEF Committee to ensure the implementation of any approved structural changes continue to benefit the most vulnerable members of our community.

What changes were accomplished in the adopted ordinance?

The adopted ordinance removes from code the funding allocations that have guided PCEF investments to date. As a replacement, the code now requires the creation of 5-year climate investment plans (CIP), prioritizing carbon reduction projects that advance racial and social justice. The CIP will include existing PCEF-funded grant work and create a new category of work. The existing work would include PCEF’s community responsive grants, which fund community-led projects and programs through nonprofit organizations. The new category of work will include strategic initiatives that are aligned with the City’s broader climate action efforts. Measurable goals and/or outcomes for both community responsive grants and strategic initiatives will be defined in the CIP.

The CIP will be updated every five years based on the latest information, including current climate science, City decarbonization priorities, community input and need, and local implementation capacity.

What’s the difference between “community responsive grants” and “strategic initiatives?”

“Community responsive grants” are awarded for projects designed and implemented by community-led nonprofit organizations. These grants prioritize carbon reduction and green workforce training projects that are led by, and serve, communities living on the frontlines of climate change. PCEF has successfully launched two grant funding cycles under the community responsive grants program, which have been publicly referred to as RFP #1 and RFP #2.

“Strategic initiatives” are targeted programs designed with input from community and City of Portland stateholders. These initiatives will be outlined in the CIP, and may be implemented through partnerships with non-profit organizations, government entities, or businesses. These programs are selected based on shared City/community priorities, GHG savings opportunity, timeliness, need, and social impacts.

Climate Investment Plan

What is the process for designing the new Climate Investment Plans (CIP)?

PCEF staff will work closely with internal and external community stakeholders, including the PCEF Committee, to develop the Climate Investment Plan in a public and transparent process. Opportunities for public input and information about the development of the Plan will be listed on our website, and notices will be distributed to the PCEF email subscriber list. Sign up to receive updates here

How would the Climate Investment Plans (CIP) be implemented?

The 9-member, volunteer PCEF Committee will recommend the initial CIP within nine months of adopted ordinance changes. The CIP will determine the percentage of funding for community responsive grants versus strategic initiatives, define strategic initiatives, and state goals and outcomes for the 5-year investment.

What kinds of strategic initiatives would be prioritized in the first Climate Investment Plan (CIP)?

During the first CIP development, PCEF will launch two strategic programs will be immediately. These two programs were selected based on timeliness, need, community impact, and greenhouse gas savings opportunity. The programs are:

  • Strategic initiative #1: Growing an equitable tree canopy to support the City’s 2035 tree canopy cover goals - $40 million over five years

    • This includes, but is not limited to, planting and maintaining new street trees, maintaining existing tree canopy cover, green workforce development, and contractor support.

  • Strategic initiative #2: Raising the bar on efficiency and renewable energy upgrades in new and redeveloped regulated affordable multifamily housing - $60 million over five years

    • These investments will result in new and redeveloped affordable housing that are highly energy efficient, have lower and more stable utility bills, improved air quality, and are more comfortable for residents. Improvements that would not take place without PCEF investment may include, but are not limited to, solar panels, higher value insulation, high efficiency hot water heating systems, variable frequency drives, and air source heat pumps that keeps residents healthy and comfortable year-round.

What other strategic initiatives are envisioned for the first Climate Investment Plan?

The initial 5-year CIP will also include the approximate, estimated funding priorities and strategic initiatives below:

  • Housing and small commercial energy efficiency, renewable energy, and embodied carbon: $300 million.

  • Transportation decarbonization: $100 million.

  • Low-cost access to capital (e.g., loans and credit enhancements) for carbon-reducing projects: $100 million.

  • Resilient community centers (i.e., government and non-profit owned community centers): $30 million.

  • Building community-based organization operational capacity: $8 million.

  • 82nd Ave – planning and early investment for low carbon equitable communities: $10 million. Examples include low-carbon electric vehicle infrastructure and green infrastructure.

Community Responsive Grants

What is the role for Community Responsive Grants?

Community responsive grants are the cornerstone of PCEF. They absolutely will be maintained as a core component of each Climate Investment Plan. 

Would for-profit businesses be eligible for community-responsive grants? 

No. For-profit businesses would not be able to apply for community-responsive grants. Only tax-exempt entities recognized by the IRS, such as non-profit and government organizations, would be eligible to apply directly for the community-responsive grants. However, for-profit businesses may be contracted by community responsive grant recipients to help implement portions of their approved projects, which is already the model used in current grantee projects from RFPs #1 and #2.   

For-profit businesses may, however, be able to apply to administer PCEF funds through the strategic initiatives.  The Climate Investment Plan (CIP) will define which kinds of organizations are eligible to apply for the different program offerings. The first CIP will be complete by July 2023.  

Accountability and code change details

How does the updated code language address program accountability?

This code change creates a framework that requires setting goals tied to recommended funding areas in a manner that is specific, measurable, achievable, and relevant for an investment fund like PCEF.

The original code language was written so that the PCEF program would implement the City’s Climate Action Plan in a manner that was equitable. This was an important plan that set out both broad city-wide carbon reduction goals (which are currently reflected in the Climate Emergency Workplan) and detailed 170+ actions to achieve those goals. The plan and subsequent workplan, however, were centered on the role of City government in achieving those reductions and not designed to specifically guide investments such as those made possible by PCEF. As a result, many of the 170+ actions identified in the City’s 2015 Climate Action Plan were not directly applicable for PCEF.

What roles do each of the oversight and/or administrative parties play?

The 9-member PCEF Committee provides program guidance and community oversight to ensure program goals and outcomes are achieved and will recommend the 5-year CIP to City Council.

PCEF staff would use the CIP as a blueprint for designing solicitations, reviewing, and recommending grant proposals and approving contract awards within set limitations. Grant proposals will continue to require Council approval, while contract awards over $1 million will require Council approval.

The Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability provides administrative and compliance support, including the hosting of the PCEF website and information channels.

The City Council approves funding recommendations, budget requests, and the 5-year CIP.

How do these changes address the need to accelerate funding allocations?

Several recommended code changes will accelerate funding allocations by broadening the scope of eligible recipients, expanding the funding areas, and increasing the administrative cap from 5% to 12%. Together, these changes expand eligibility and access for funding recipients that are addressing climate change, while maintaining sufficient support, controls, and oversight. Contract and/or grant eligibility would be expanded to:

  • Transportation decarbonization projects.

  • Government entities, including schools.

  • For-profit businesses that may be eligible to receive contracts to administer strategic initiatives, in specific roles determined by the CIP.

  • Workforce development and contractor support programming for individuals and businesses within the broader Portland metro area, not just within the Portland city boundary.

How do these changes address audit recommendations?

These changes address the March 2022 audit recommendations by:

  • Clarifying PCEF’s role and contribution to the City’s climate action efforts and goals through the 5-year CIP.

  • Addressing ambiguity related to program administrative cost limits.

  • Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the PCEF Committee.

  • Clarifying PCEF’s role in building organizational capacity to support greater local implementation of carbon reduction projects that create community benefit.

Next steps

What are the next steps?

The development of the initial strategic initiatives is anticipated to take three to six months. The 5-year CIP is expected to take nine months and must be recommended by the PCEF Committee by August 1, 2023.


Where can I find the adopted ordinance?

View the ordinance

This FAQ page is current as of November 18, 2022 and will be updated as needed.


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