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PCEF Inaugural Fund Announcement FAQ

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A short list of answers to frequently asked questions related to PCEF inaugural fund grantees including process, applications, background, and more.

Tell me more about the grantees and what this round of funding would support?

The final package awards 45 grants, with a total of $8.6 million in funding. Nearly 40 percent of funds will be directed to small or emerging organizations.

The 29 funded planning grants represent a good distribution of planning efforts across all funding areas (e.g., clean energy, regenerative agriculture, workforce development). Recommended implementation grants are distributed within the target funding areas that were published in the RFP for clean energy, workforce development and contractor support, and regenerative agriculture and green infrastructure.

 Seven projects funded fall under the Clean energy category and include energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements to both single and multi-family residential properties with an emphasis on deep energy retrofits. The four regenerative agriculture and green infrastructure projects include gardening and food production as well as tree planting, development of rain gardens and depaving at schools and throughout the community. Additionally, the package funds four workforce development projects will train both existing and new workers in green technologies and practices, preparing them for jobs in the green economy.

Among recommended grants, there is robust representation of culturally specific groups representing Black, Native American, Latinx, and Asian-Pacific Islander communities. Additionally, there are numerous proposals from groups with a focus on multiple priority populations, often focusing on both communities of color and people with low incomes.

Across planning grants, there is a strong geographic balance of projects being planned across the City, while 2/3 of the implementation projects will take place east of 82nd Ave in East Portland. 12 of the 16 implementation projects involve physical improvements with an estimate total lifetime reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of roughly 11,500 metric tons (CO2e).

What’s the difference between planning, small, and large grants?

Planning grants help organizations complete assessment or planning that may be needed to develop a full project proposal. Applicants could request up to $100,000 per planning grant.

Eligible activities include, but are not limited to, research and learning, feasibility/technical evaluation and consultation, community outreach and education, and collaboration and partnership building. Planning resources cannot be used for acquisition of land, materials, supplies, or doing actual project implementation work.

Implementation grants fall under two categories: small grants and large grants.

Small grants can fund projects with physical improvements and/or non-physical improvement activities. Applicants could request up to $200,000 in small grants per project.

Grant funds can be used to pay for staff time, contracted work, purchase of real property (e.g. equipment, land), costs associated with fulfilling requirements of the grant (e.g. additional insurance, reporting), and other items or activities that will address climate change and advance racial and social justice. The application for small grants is similar to large grants but required less information, and the scoring has a level of flexibility appropriate to smaller projects.

Work funded by small grants must be completed within 3 years.

Large grants can fund projects with physical improvements and/or non-physical improvement activities. Applicants could between $200,000 and $1 million in large grants per project.

Grant funds can be used to pay for staff time, contracted work, purchase of real property (e.g. equipment, land), costs associated with fulfilling requirements of the grant (e.g. additional insurance, reporting), and other items or activities that will address climate change and advance racial and social justice. The application for large grants was more rigorous.

Work funded by large grants should be completed within five years.

Why aren’t there more projects with physical improvements? Why so many planning grants?

Planning grants provide organizations with the capacity to develop robust project proposals. Often, funding is not widely available for organizations to spend time planning, conducting technical assessments, and developing detailed scopes of work that is critical for any project implementation proposal, leaving smaller groups and under-resourced organizations behind. Given this, Grant Committee members ultimately recommended a portfolio of grants with greater planning grants, acknowledging this was the first phase of launching the program, with additional opportunities for larger projects and more funding in future rounds.

How did the Grant Committee’s reach this funding recommendation?

After an initial eligibility and technical feasibility screening of 140 applications, 22 panelists, consisting of Grant Committee members, program staff, and subject matter experts, reviewed a total of 133 applications in 26 review panel meetings. Applications were reviewed according to the following criteria refined over a four-month period after extensive public comment: organizational capacity, project description and scope, environmental benefit, social benefit, workforce benefit, and budget.

With final scores compiled by staff, over the course of two 3-hour long meetings, Grant Committee members deliberated 3 different funding packages. Each funding package met some variation of the funding target ranges Grant Committee members set prior to the announcement of the inaugural Request for Proposals solicitation and the funding area allocation written in the city code. Committee members did not know the specific individual proposals within each funding package during deliberations.

The final Committee funding package recommendation was presented to Portland City Council April 1, 2021 for Council discussion and vote.

Why did this first round only offer $8.6 million in funding?

Funding available for this first round was budgeted early in the implementation of PCEF (pre-COVID), during a time when there was significant uncertainty around how much the fund would actually collect. Additionally, the decision to offer a smaller amount this first funding round aligned with the program’s need to start small and take an equity-centered approach. This decision allowed staff, Grant Committee, and community members to design the program for community needs and as directed by the ballot initiative, while building all facets of the program. This included: developing the Grant Committee, the program’s internal infrastructure and operations, program staffing, and an inaugural Request For Proposals that was responsive to extensive community feedback.

As a program that is the first of its kind in the nation, PCEF did not have a blueprint of any sort to follow. Through subject matter and community expertise, staff, Grant Committee members, and community members worked together to put the program’s legislative code into practice, filling in gaps as they were identified. Given this uncharted territory, staff and Committee members recognized that investing in extra thought and time during the onset of the program will pay off in the form of a more robust, responsive, and adaptable community-centered program. In essence, this smaller first round of funding allowed the program to build the capacity needed and take feedback and lessons learned from this past year to continue refining the program and reach PCEF’s goal of offering upwards of $60 million in funding next fiscal year (July 2021 – June 2022).

While alternative approaches were evaluated with City leadership, this planned approach best aligned with what was needed to implement an equitable program from the beginning.

When will the next round of funding applications be available and for how much?

Beginning in April 2021, the Grant Committee will meet to outline the next request for proposals, including the number of funding rounds in the next fiscal year (July 2021 – June 2022) as well as potential adjustments to grant criteria based on lessons learned in the inaugural funding year. While the number of funding rounds is yet to be determined, PCEF’s proposed budget includes $60 million in available funding for FY 2021-22. Additionally, the program will be utilizing the feedback, lessons learned, and processes built from the first round of funding to inform future funding opportunities, including those for FY 2021-22.

Why is there an emphasis on the social/racial impacts of climate action?

Despite the city of Portland’s goal of implementing community-wide climate solutions, Portlanders most impacted by climate change – communities of color and low-income residents, have largely been left out of the process to develop solutions as well as experience the benefits that come with them. Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF) was created specifically to direct resources and funding to these communities who have been excluded from this emerging economy. Providing benefits to specific populations is central to the PCEF program, and its legislative code identifies two “priority populations” in the program’s different funding areas:

  1. Priority populations for clean energy, green infrastructure, and regenerative agriculture projects: people with low income and people of color
  2. Priority populations for workforce and contractor development projects: women, people of color, people with disabilities, and people who are chronically underemployed

What did the application process look like?

The program’s inaugural RFP was released September 16, 2020, and closed November 23, 2020. The September 2020 Grant Application Guide released to complement the program’s first RFP walks potential applicants through the application steps. Read through the guide to see what information and guidelines potential applicants received prior to applying for a PCEF grant. Those interested in seeing what an actual grant application looks like can find blank applications for planning, small, and large grants here (skip to Step 3). Potential applicants were invited to ask clarifying questions to ensure they had the information necessary to submit the best proposal possible. All questions received and answered by staff during this time were made publicly available on the website. Additionally, PCEF staff held webinars and grant writing trainings for interested applicants to answer questions and provide technical assistance.

How do I stay up to date on information about grantees and where money is going?

Please sign up for updates here and come back and visit portland.gov/bps/cleanenergy.

Who should I contact if I have additional questions?

You can email us at CleanEnergyFund@portlandoregon.gov or call us at 503-823-7713.