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Guide to the PCEF grant application process

Guide
PCEF funding is available to plan and implement projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve climate resiliency in ways that advance racial and social justice.
On this page

The 2021 application period is closed

Please visit the PCEF homepage for updates on the PCEF grant process or for new grant opportunities through the PCEF program. 


Welcome

This page provides important information about the PCEF program and the application process.

Thank you for your interest in applying for a grant from the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF).

Interested applicants, please read the welcome letter from Sam Baraso, PCEF Program Manager.

Next, read about the PCEF program, including the Guiding Principles and the background of this historic initiative created and led by communities of color and passed by Portlanders. It is important to understand the Guiding Principles as they inform how grant applications will be evaluated.

Then, review this guide to determine your eligibility and learn about the application and selection process.

Language access

The Portland Clean Energy Fund is committed to providing meaningful access to our information and materials to all Portlanders. We recognize that people interested in PCEF may have different interests and needs. If you would like support with interpretation, translation, alternative formats, or other accessibility services, please click the relevant link below and fill out a brief survey:

Guía del proceso de solicitud de subvenciones del Fondo de Energía Limpia

For other languages, call 503-823-7700.

Important dates

  • RFP released: Sept. 28, 2021
  • Applications due: Nov. 30, 2021 at 11:59 p.m.
  • Awards announced: Spring 2022

Who can apply for a PCEF grant

Qualified nonprofit organizations who meet all of the following requirements are eligible to apply for PCEF grant funds:

  1. Designated by the Federal government as a 501(c) or 521(a) nonprofit entity.
  2. Registered and certified with the Oregon Secretary of State as a nonprofit organization.
  3. NOT on the Oregon Department of Justice list of Disqualified Charities.

Newly formed or emerging groups who do not meet the 501(c) or 521(a) designation requirement, or eligible nonprofits who may benefit from additional administrative capacity, may apply for a PCEF grant with a fiscal sponsor. A fiscal sponsor is an eligible nonprofit organization that provides organizational infrastructure and administrative support for managing a grant.

About PCEF

The Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund is a historic initiative created and led by communities of color and passed by Portlanders in November 2018. It provides dedicated funding to address climate change and advance racial and social justice. Read the full text of PCEF’s enabling legislation (legislative code).

PCEF is guided by a nine-member Grant Committee of diverse Portland residents. The Committee developed a set of principles to guide the program. These Guiding Principles describe the values by which the PCEF program is administered. The Guiding Principles complement the legislative code and help ensure that decisions are being made in a way that aligns with the vision and values of the Committee and the community.

The guiding principles are:

  • Focused on climate action with multiple benefits. Invest in people, livelihoods, places, and processes that build climate resilience and community wealth, foster healthy communities, and support regenerative systems. Avoid and mitigate displacement, especially resulting from gentrification pressures.
  • Justice driven. Advance systems change that addresses historic and current discrimination. Center all disadvantaged and marginalized groups – particularly Black and Indigenous people.
  • Accountable. Implement transparent funding, oversight, and engagement processes that promote continuous learning, programmatic checks and balances, and improvement. Demonstrate achievement of equitable social, economic, and environmental benefit. Remain accountable to target beneficiaries, grantees, and all Portlanders.
  • Community powered. Trust community knowledge, experience, innovation, and leadership. Honor and build on existing work and partnerships, while supporting capacity building for emerging community groups and diverse coalitions. Engage with and invest in community-driven approaches that foster community power to create meaningful change.

PCEF priority populations

PCEF is designed to ensure that program investments benefit people who are most impacted by climate change and people who have historically been left out of the economic opportunity associated with climate projects. These populations are called out in the City code, referenced in application questions, and considered in scoring applications. It is important that organizations applying for PCEF grants understand how the two categories of priority populations are defined:

  1. For clean energy, green infrastructure, and regenerative agriculture projects priority populations are defined as:
    • Black people
    • Native American/Alaska Native people
    • Other people of color
    • People with low income

These groups of people have had less access to the benefits of green investments, and at the same time are more vulnerable to extreme heat, wildfire smoke, vector borne diseases, flooding and other climate-related impacts.

  1. For workforce and contractor development projects priority populations are defined as:
    • Black people
    • Native American/Alaska Native people
    • Other people of color
    • People with low income
    • People who experience disabilities
    • Women
    • Transgender people
    • Two-spirit people
    • Gender non-conforming people and other groups of people who experience gender or sex-based discrimination.

These groups of people have not had equitable access to workforce and contracting opportunities associated with the clean economy. Developing a diverse and well-trained workforce and contractor pool requires reaching these populations and addressing the barriers that have prevented their full participation.

Funding categories and types of grants

When applying for funding, there are three main questions to consider:

  1. The type of work you intend to do (funding category),
  2. Whether you are seeking funds to develop a plan, or your project is fully or mostly developed and ready to go (planning grant or implementation grant), and
  3. The amount of money needed for the project (small or large grant).

Funding categories: the work you intend to do

Your funding request must be for work that falls within one or more of the PCEF funding categories defined in the legislative code. If you are applying to do planning work, you must be planning for a project within one or more of the PCEF funding categories. The funding categories are:

  • Clean energy. Includes renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for residential, commercial, and school properties.
  • Green infrastructure and regenerative agriculture. Focuses on projects that reduce greenhouse gases, improve water quality, and create a healthier urban environment.
  • Workforce development and contractor support. Includes job training, apprenticeship programs, and business technical assistance, with a focus on economically disadvantaged workers and businesses.
  • Innovation and other. Includes transportation projects and other projects that do not fall into one of the above categories but supports program goals of addressing climate change and advancing racial and social justice.

Types of grants: project readiness and the amount needed for the project

PCEF offers two types of grants: planning and implementation. There are four types of implementation grants: standard small, standard large, workforce and contractor development small, and workforce and contractor development large. Note that while planning is a specific type of grant, some planning activities are an allowable expense in the implementation grants.

Planning grants – up to $100,000 per application

Planning grants can be used to help organizations complete assessment or planning that may be needed to develop a full project proposal. 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 or any costs associated with doing actual project implementation work. Receiving a planning grant does not guarantee future project funding. An organization can apply for more than one planning grant, but each would need to be for a distinct project.

Work funded by planning grants should be completed within one year but exceptions can be made.

Implementation grants – Standard grants, and Workforce and contractor development grants, in Small and Large funding amounts

Implementation grants can be used for projects that address climate change and advance racial and social justice. Projects can include physical improvements (e.g. weatherization, solar installations, tree planting, regenerative agriculture) and/or non-physical activities (e.g. workforce training, energy conservation education). Grant funds can be used to pay for staff time, contracted work, purchase of real property, materials and supplies, costs associated with fulfilling requirements of the grant (e.g. additional insurance, reporting), and other items needed to complete the project. Some planning can be a part of a small or large grant application but the focus of the application has to be implementation.

  • Small grants — Up to $500,000 per application
    Work funded by small grants should be completed within three years but exceptions can be made if requested by the grantee.
  • Large grants — Greater than $500,000 to $10 million per application
    Work funded by large grants should be completed within five years.

Available funding

Approximately $60 million in grant funds will be available under this request for proposals. In the future there will be approximately $35-45 million available two times per year, for a total of $60 to $80 million in annual funding for the next three years. Organizations can apply for more than one grant within a funding cycle and more than one grant in a funding category.

The anticipated funding allocation for RFP 2 includes a total portfolio of around 75 grants comprised of:

  • 20 - 25 planning grants
  • 30 - 40 small grants
  • 15 - 25 large grants

Within this portfolio there are funding targets for each funding category, as defined in PCEF legislation. The funding targets for this year include the following:

  • Clean energy: expected funding for this grant category is $24 to $36 million.
  • Green infrastructure and regenerative agriculture: expected funding for this grant category is $6 to $9 million.
  • Workforce development and contractor support: expected funding for this grant category is $12 to $15 million.
  • Innovation and other: expected funding for this grant category is $3 million with a minimum allocation of $1.5 million for transportation projects that reduce GHG emissions.

Uses of PCEF funds

This section highlights how PCEF dollars can and can’t be used, and other things to be aware of when it comes to PCEF funding. This is not a comprehensive list of funding uses or requirements. It provides information about common questions regarding funding limits and uses of funds, including information on allowable expenses that often are not allowed by other funders, but may be critical to addressing climate issues in a way that advances racial and social justice. We encourage applicants to think creatively when designing projects that meet environmental, racial and social justice goals. If you have any additional questions about how PCEF funds can or can't be used, please contact cleanenergyfund@portlandoregon.gov.

Allowable expenses: What PCEF funding can be used for

  • Materials, supplies and equipment purchases must be in service of implementing the proposed project. PCEF does not require lowest cost budget; applicants should consider the social, economic, and environmental impacts of purchasing choices.
  • Expenses associated with maintaining an investment over its lifetime: Examples include, but are not limited to, prepayment of a service warranty, HVAC maintenance contract, and sending a reminder about watering trees.
  • Items necessary for businesses starting or scaling up in the clean energy sector may be an allowable expense for a contractor support grant.
  • Capitalizing a loan program to support activities that address climate change and advance racial and social justice may be an allowable expense.
  • Insurance costs that are additional and a direct result of requirements associated with the PCEF grant are an allowable expense.
  • Items necessary to support recruitment, retention, and success of participants in a workforce development program including payments to, or on behalf of, a participant. Examples of participant payments include, but are not limited to, assistance with payment of housing, transportation, childcare, tools, union dues, and participation stipends. Need for participant payments should be established (e.g., with income eligibility requirements), and payments should be proportional to the level of program participation (e.g., if the program is one day per week, payments would cover costs for that day).
  • Project reporting: Reports, plans and other material developed using grant funds are an allowable expense and considered public information. In addition to traditional reporting, which will be required of all PCEF grantees, PCEF applicants are encouraged to integrate culturally appropriate and meaningful ways of communicating and reporting about their project. Examples could include works of performance or visual art, etc.

Allowable expenses, with specific limits: PCEF funds can be used, but with some restrictions

  • Fiscal sponsors: Organizations that apply for PCEF funds with a fiscal sponsor may allocate up to 10% of project expenses for fiscal sponsor fees.
  • Overhead costs (also sometimes called administrative costs) refer to general costs of operations such as rent, utilities, administrative staff, insurance, legal, website and telecommunications. Overhead for travel, materials, and contract costs on PCEF projects must not exceed 10%. Overhead on all other costs including personnel, must not exceed 20%.
    • Note that applications with a fiscal sponsor may have a combined overhead rate up to 25%.
  • Building improvements that are not directly related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, or green infrastructure measures are an allowable project expense, but they may not exceed 30% of the total construction budget on each site and must address life, health, or safety issues.
  • New construction or building improvements that will result in a new or renovated building that does not use more energy than it generates on an annual basis (sometimes called net-zero) may charge up to 30% of total project cost, including, if applicable, land acquisition and design, to a PCEF grant.
  • Land and building acquisition is an allowable project expense if the land or building use is directly related to a PCEF funding category. For example, land acquisition for a community solar project may be allowed whereas land acquisition for an affordable housing project would not (unless it was developed to not use more energy on an annual basis than it generates – see item above). Acquiring a building to operate as a green workforce development training facility may be an allowable expense whereas acquiring a building to use as a community center would not.
  • Grant funds invested in non-residential properties that are owned by individuals or organizations that are not an eligible non-profit organization, with the exception of schools, is capped at $100,000 unless those investments are loans that will be repaid. For example, a small minority owned business could benefit from a grant funded efficiency improvement of up to $100,000 in their property. A property owned by an eligible non-profit organization or a residential property can benefit from grant funded improvements greater than $100,000.

PCEF funding rules you should be aware of before you decide to apply

  • Transfer of property: Some types of property (e.g., real property and personal property valued above a certain threshold) obtained with PCEF funds, either in full or in part, may require the grantee to notify the City, and receive approval for transfer ownership of the property. The City’s approval to transfer ownership will not be unreasonably withheld.
  • Wage requirements: All workers paid using PCEF funds must be paid at least 180% of area minimum wage. This wage is updated every year on July 1. For the time period July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 the minimum wage a worker can be paid using PCEF funds is $25.20 per hour. For the fiscal year July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023 the minimum wage a worker may be paid using PCEF funds is $26.55 per hour. Read about PCEF wage requirements.
  • Rent stability: PCEF-funded improvements cannot be used as a basis for rent increases.
  • Reimbursement for items procured or work completed prior to the effective date of the grant agreement are not an allowable expense.

Application assistance

We recognize that applying for project funding requires skills and capacities that range from grant writing and project management to climate justice and collaboration. We will offer a number of opportunities to answer questions and to help applicants succeed with their PCEF project ideas. These include:

  • Office hours and webinars to help organizations understand the application and answer questions.
  • Workshops and trainings on specific topics to assist potential applicants.
  • Additional information and resources on our website including information about PCEF funding categories (clean energy, green infrastructure, regenerative agriculture, and workforce and contractor development).

To see the full list of assistance opportunities for applicants, visit Application assistance.

Applying for a grant

Grant applications should be submitted using the online application portal:

Apply for a PCEF grant

You may also submit your application by emailing materials to cleanenergyfund@portlandoregon.gov or by mailing in hard copies to 1810 SW 5th Ave., Suite 710 Portland, OR 97201.

Video supplements: In addition to the required application information, applicants may choose to include a video of up to seven minutes to help tell their story. The video is not a requirement. If you do choose to include a video please remember:

  • Videos should be 5 to 7 minutes long.
  • Limit background and/or ambient noise to ensure we can hear you clearly.
  • Limit camera shake and movement.
  • Upload your video to a file sharing site, such as YouTube or Vimeo, and paste the link into your PCEF grant application.
  • Include any information (such as a password) needed to access the video.
  • Your video link must be live and accessible through February 28, 2022.
  • Please do not create a highly produced video, your application will not be judged on the quality or production value of your video.

Application review process

PCEF’s application review process was designed to support equity, reliability, and transparency. Small and large grant applications that include physical improvements (e.g., weatherization, solar installations, tree planting, regenerative agriculture) go through a seven step review process. Small and large grant applications that do not include physical improvements go through a six step review, skipping the technical review. The application review steps are as follows:

  1. Eligibility screening
    Program staff will review each application to ensure the organization and project are eligible for funding. Eligibility criteria are informed by PCEF legislation as well as City contracting and legal requirements. All applications must be submitted by eligible non-profits and be for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve climate resiliency in ways that advance racial and social justice.
  2. Technical feasibility review
    Applications for projects that include a physical improvement will be reviewed for technical feasibility if they pass the eligibility screen. The technical review determines whether the project is actually possible, eliminating projects that are not feasible. The review does not count toward the project score; rather, it serves as a screen to eliminate projects that are not technically feasible. Projects do not need to be fully designed to pass the technical review; however, they must be technically feasible. During this review phase there will be opportunity for reviewers to seek clarification or other information from the applicant in order to improve their understanding of the project.
  3. Threshold review
    Applications must receive a minimum of 50% of possible points across all applicable sections of the scoring criteria in order to be considered for funding. Each application will be scored by two PCEF team members and those that fail to receive at least half of all applicable points will not be advanced to full scoring panels or considered for funding.
  4. Financial review
    For applications that pass the threshold review, PCEF staff will review financial documents and narrative information submitted with the application. The financial review does not count toward the project score, it serves as a tool for the program to use in determining how a project will be managed if it is awarded funding.
  5. Scoring panel review
    Applications that pass the screening for eligibility, technical feasibility, and threshold review will be assigned to a scoring panel. In the event of a high volume of applications, only a subset of applications will be assigned to a scoring panel based on scores from the threshold review. Each scoring panel will consist of three to five people drawing from PCEF Committee members, program staff, community members, and subject matter experts. Each panel will have a minimum of one Committee member and one staff member and efforts will be made to include a majority people of color and gender balance in the panel composition. Scoring panelists (reviewers) will receive training on the scoring criteria and anti-bias awareness. Reviewers will be asked to refrain from communicating directly with applicants during the review process. The scoring panel review includes four steps:
    1. Each reviewer will individually score applications. Reviewers will be provided with scoring criteria guidance, technical review, and financial review information.
    2. PCEF staff will compile the individual reviewers’ scores and generate the, average score for each criterion. The average scores will be sent to the applicant along with any questions from the scoring panel that may assist them in better understanding the application.
    3. Applicants will have the opportunity to respond to their score and answer questions posed by the reviewers. Directions regarding length and format of the applicant response will be provided to ensure consistency across all applications. Applicant responses will be provided to the scoring panel for consideration.
    4. The scoring panel will meet to discuss their individual scores and applicant responses, and reviewers will have the opportunity to change their scores. At the end of this meeting, a final score, which is an average of all reviewers’ final scores, will be awarded for each application.
  6. Committee review
    The Committee will use a portfolio approach to make its funding recommendation. The Committee will receive a set of two to four portfolios to review, with each portfolio containing a mix of proposals (applications) that together meet the funding category allocations (e.g., 20-25% to workforce and contractor development grants), include the highest scoring applications within those categories, and consider program goals and legislative requirements. Committee members will review the characteristics and trade-offs associated with the various portfolios and make their funding recommendation based on the geographic mix, GHG savings, alignment with PCEF Guiding Principles, and each portfolio’s alignment with the funding targets listed in the Available funding section above. Committee deliberations and final recommendations around funding portfolios will be held publicly.
  7. City Council approval
    The Committee’s final funding recommendations will be sent to City Council for approval. Council is generally expected to accept the Committee’s recommendations. If Council rejects a funding recommendation, they must provide a written explanation of the decision.