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Guide to the PCEF grant application process

Everything you need to know to apply for PCEF grants, from important dates and eligibility, to getting assistance with your application, and much more.
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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.

Important dates

  • RFP released: Sept. 16, 2020
  • Questions about RFP due: Oct. 29, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.
  • Applications due: **Nov. 23, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.
  • Awards announced: Late March 2021

**Date extended to provide flexibility for community members experiencing anxiety, stress, and emotional fatigue from the 2020 election.

Eligibility — who can apply for a PCEF grant

Qualified nonprofit organizations who meet all of the following requirements are eligible 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. 

Organizations or groups may apply with a fiscal sponsor, which is a qualified nonprofit organization that provides organizational infrastructure and administrative support for managing a grant.

PCEF priority populations

Providing benefits to specific populations is central to the PCEF program. These populations are called out in the City code language, are referenced several times in application questions and are used in scoring applications. It is important that organizations applying for PCEF grants understand these priority populations. The PCEF legislative code identifies two “priority populations”:

The PCEF legislative code identifies two “priority populations”:

  1. Priority populations for clean energy, green infrastructure, and regenerative agriculture projects: People with low income and people of color are priority populations for grants that address clean energy, green infrastructure, and regenerative agriculture. Historically, these populations have had less access to the benefits of green investments, and at the same time they are more vulnerable to extreme heat, wildfire smoke, vector borne diseases, flooding and other climate-related impacts.
  2. Priority populations for workforce and contractor development projects: Women, people of color, people with disabilities, and people who are chronically underemployed are identified as priority populations for grants that address workforce and contractor development. These populations have not had equitable access to workforce and contractor opportunities associated with the clean economy. Developing a diverse and well-trained workforce and contractor pool in the clean energy field requires reaching these populations and addressing the barriers that have prevented their full participation in this field.

If you have questions about how your project serves or benefits PCEF priority populations, contact Portland Clean Energy Fund.

Funding categories

Approximately $8.6 million will be available for funding grants under this request for proposals. Beginning next year (2021), there will be approximately $40-60 million available per year. Organizations that receive a grant award this year are eligible for funding in future funding cycles.

Data visualization of the available funding for PCEF 2020 grants.

PCEF funds can be used to support work in four broad categories. Project proposals (applications) may address more than one of these funding categories:

  • Clean energy. Includes renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for residential, commercial, and school properties. At least half of the projects under this category must specifically benefit low-income residents and people of color. This year the expected funding for this grant category is $3.4 to $5 million.

  • Green infrastructure and regenerative agriculture. Focuses on projects that reduce greenhouse gases, improve water quality, and create a healthier urban environment. Expected funding for this grant category is $840,000 to $1.3 million.

  • Green workforce development and contractor support. Includes job training, apprenticeship programs, and business technical assistance, with a focus on economically disadvantaged workers and businesses. Expected funding for this grant category is $1.7 to $2.1 million.

  • Innovation / Other. Includes projects that do not fall into one of the above categories but supports climate action goals in a way that advances racial and social equity. A funding level for this grant category has not been defined for year one.

Grant types

There are three types of grants being funded under this solicitation – planning, small, and large. There are differences in the applications and scoring depending on the type of grant. You may apply for more than one grant.

Planning grants — Up to $100,000 per application

Planning grants 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, materials, supplies, or 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. This funding round, approximately $1.5 million has been allocated for planning grants. Planning grant activities are expected to be completed within one year but applicants may request more time with justification.

Small grants — Less than $200,000 per project

Small 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. community engagement, education).

Grant funds can be used to pay for staff time, contracted work, purchase of real property (e.g. equipment, land), costs associated with fullfilling 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 requires less information, and the scoring has a level of flexibility appropriate to smaller projects. Work funded by small grants must be completed within three years.

Large grants — $200,000 to $1,000,000 per project

Large 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. community engagement, education).

Grant funds can be used to pay for staff time, contracted work, purchase of real property (e.g. equipment, land), costs associated with fullfilling 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 is more rigorous. Work funded by large grants should be completed within five years.

Note: Funding levels for each type of grant may be different in future years.

Apply for a PCEF grant

Uses of funds

This section includes information about:

  1. Funding limitations for certain types of expenses.
  2. Information on expenses that are not typically allowed in traditional climate project funding, but may be critical to addressing climate issues in a way that advances racial and social justice.

We are calling these out so that applicants will: 1) know what is allowed, and 2) be encouraged to think creatively about how to meet environmental, racial and social justice goals.

  • 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.

  • Rent stability: PCEF-funded improvement cannot be used as a basis for rent increases.

  • 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.

  • Land acquisition is an allowable project expense.

  • 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.

  • Building improvements that are not directly related to efficiency, renewable, 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.

  • Expenses associated with maintaining an investment over its lifetime are allowable expenses. Examples include, but are not limited to, prepayment of a service warranty, HVAC maintenance contract, and sending a reminder about watering trees.

  • Reimbursement for items procured or work completed prior to the effective date of the grant agreement are not an allowable expense.

  • Items necessary to support recruitment, retention, and success of participants in a workforce development program are an allowable expense 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).

  • 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.

  • Fiscal sponors: 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 is an allowable expense for PCEF grants. Overhead for travel, materials, and contract costs 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% but must provide justification of overhead charged by the applicant.

Application review process

PCEF’s application review process was designed to support equity, reliability, and transparency. For small and large grants, there are five steps in the review process. Planning grants skip the technical review step of the process.

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.

2. Technical feasibility review

Each application that passes the eligibility screening will be reviewed for technical viability. The technical 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. Projects that do not include physical improvements will not have a technical review.

3. Scoring panel review

Each application that passes the screening for eligibility and technical feasibility will be assigned to a scoring panel. Each scoring panel will include three to five people drawing from PCEF Committee members, program staff and subject matter experts, with a minimum of one Committee member and one staff. 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 with applicants during the review process. The scoring panel review includes three steps:

  1. Each reviewer will individually score applications. Reviewers will be provided with scoring criteria guidance and technical review information. Scoring criteria guidance for each grant type is included in the application packet in Apply for a PCEF grant.

  1. PCEF staff will average the reviewers’ scores for each criterion and provide that to the project applicant. The scoring panel may also include simple clarifying questions for the applicant. Applicants will have the opportunity to respond to their score and answer clarifying questions posed by the reviewers. Applicants can respond in writing or by video or audio recording. 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.

  1. 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 will be awarded for each application. If the scoring panel recommends to the PCEF Committee that an application not be funded, they will provide a reason for that recommendation.

4. Committee review

For each application that passes the eligibility and technical review screens, the full Committee will receive a packet that includes a brief summary of the project, the review panel score, the applicant response (if provided), and explanation if there is a recommendation to not fund the application. The applications will be ranked based on the final score assigned by the scoring panel. In order to create a balanced portfolio, the Committee may consider the following, in addition to the review panel score, when making final funding recommendations:

  1. Funding targets defined in PCEF legislation:

    1. 40-60% of funding to renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, with at least 50% of these projects serving low income households and people of color.

    2. 20-25% of funding to clean energy workforce and contractor development.

    3. 10-15% of funding to regenerative agriculture and green infrastructure programs that result in sequestration of greenhouse gases.

    4. 5% of funding to other/innovation.

  2. Geographic distribution.

  1. Legislative target to award at least 20% of funds to organizations with a track record of providing programs that benefit economically disadvantaged community members, including people of color, women, people with disabilities, and the chronically underemployed.

  1. Applicant responses and scoring panel recommendations.

  1. Alignment with PCEF Guiding Principles.

5. City Council approval

The Committee’s final 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.

Receiving a grant

Each grantee that is awarded funds will be assigned a PCEF staff contact (PCEF Project Manager). The first step in finalizing the grant agreement will be to participate in a kick-off meeting to review and finalize grant scope and requirements, including the following elements:

  • Reporting requirements

  • Insurance requirements

  • Workforce and contractor equity agreements

  • Financial management and payment

  • Workforce and contractor utilization, if applicable

  • Other items that need to be signed off (e.g., relevant compliance, purchases conditional on completion of a prior step)

  • Scope of project management plan. This item will be the first deliverable for most grants and will include the following components:

    • Project management roles and responsibilities

    • Project communications for grant recipient, partners, and City staff

    • Finalize schedule of milestones and major deliverables

After all grant elements are finalized the PCEF Project Manager will draft the grant agreement for signature. The City will sign the grant agreement only after the grantee has signed and after all required insurance and other documentation has been provided. An example of what the grant agreement might look like is available in the application packet in Apply for a PCEF grant.

Reporting requirements

Reporting requirements will be different depending on the type, size, and timeframe of the grant. Applicants who are awarded funds will develop final reporting requirements in collaboration with their PCEF Project Manager, including type and frequency of reporting and required documentation. Reporting requirements will be designed to fit the project and provide meaningful information and accountability while striving to reduce burden on the grantee. Some grant information will be reported in a standard format, such as templates or online platforms.

We do not expect grantees to absorb the costs associated with reporting required by the program. There will be no fee to access PCEF reporting platforms and associated trainings. In addition, applicants and their contractors are encouraged to include in their budgets an appropriate amount of staff time for reporting, as well as costs associated with producing reports or other materials to communicate about the project outcomes. Additional information about reporting requirements is available in the application packet in Apply for a PCEF grant.

Helpful links

Apply for a PCEF grant

PCEF grant questions

Webinars and technical assistance

Additional resources


Translations of the PCEF grant guide

Información para la solicitud de subvenciones del Fondo de Energía Limpia de Portland (Spanish)

Thông tin cho Đơn xin Tài trợ của Quỹ Năng lượng Sạch Portland (Vietnamese) 

有关 2020 波特兰清洁能源社区福利资金补助申请的信息 (Simplified Chinese)

Xogta Codsiga Deeqda Maalgelinta Tamarta Nadiifta ah ee Portland (Somali)

Информация для подающих заявки на субсидии Портлендского фонда «Чистая энергия» (Russian)

पोर्टल्याण्ड क्लिन एनर्जी कोष अनुदान निवेदनको लागि जानकारी (Nepali)

Masoen Poraus ren Aplikeisonun ewe Portland Clean Energy Monien Aninnis (Chuukese)

ข้อมูลสำหรับการสมัครขอรับทุนจากกองทุนสนับสนุนพลังงานสะอาดรัฐออริกอน (Thai)

ຂໍ້ມູນສຳລັບຄຳຮ້ອງຂໍເງິນຊ່ວຍເຫຼືອລ້າຈາກກອງທຶນພະລັງງານສະອາດເມືອງພອດແລນ (Lao)