Historic Climate Investments Underway by the Portland Clean Energy Fund Program

by Micah Meskel, Assistant Director of Urban Conservation

A lot has happened since we last provided a written update on the City of Portland’s Clean Energy Fund (PCEF) program. Last fall Portland City Council unanimously approved the program’s inaugural Climate Investment Plan (CIP), which will invest more than $750 million in programs that advance climate justice and support the City of Portland’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions over the next five years. The CIP was developed after extensive public engagement and represents a pivotal step forward in advancing a climate-resilient Portland. It will fund community-led climate-justice projects while leveraging the City’s infrastructure to scale and expedite the collective efforts through funding strategic initiatives.

Portland Oregon downtown aerial shot
Photo by Eric Prado

Since passage, the program has launched its first request for proposals for community grant concepts, which will distribute around $60 million annually. It has also started to implement the first tier of strategic initiatives led by city and agency partners. Three early examples are the Equitable Tree Canopy initiative, which allocated $40 million to the Bureau of Parks and Recreation for tree planting across the city, $60 million to the Housing Bureau for efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to affordable multifamily housing projects, and $50 million to local school districts for climate-centered investments to school facilities. Several more strategic initiatives are slated to be launched later this spring.

While the program was busy finalizing and then launching the $750 million in climate investments, economic forecasts continued to reveal higher than expected future revenue generation over the next five years for the program as profits for billion-dollar corporations continue to soar. At the same time, the City’s overall budget projections were looking less favorable, with significant layoffs and service reductions looming. City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who directs the Bureau that PCEF is housed within, saw an opportunity to direct PCEF staff to work with City Bureau leaders to evaluate additional climate projects with demonstrable community benefits to which the surplus revenue could be allocated. This internal process ultimately surfaced a package of nearly $400 million in additional “implementation ready” climate projects to fund over the next five years, furthering the City’s climate work and alleviating budget woes.

These projects spanned the scope of the PCEF program, ranging from funding important transportation decarbonization projects, clean energy improvements to affordable housing, and significant investment in environmental programs. This included nearly $78 million to the Bureau of Environmental Services to grow the city’s climate adaptation and carbon sequestration capacity using nature-based solutions that also improve wildlife habitat and integrate nature into the built landscape.

Portland Parks and Recreation is slated to receive $100 million to manage the city’s street-tree canopy, resourcing the Bureau to provide care and maintenance for all street trees. This investment is especially exciting as it enables a transformative policy shift that relieves property owners from this costly and often complicated obligation and will unlock significant potential for tree canopy expansion especially in historically disinvested neighborhoods (a longtime policy goal of Bird Alliance of Oregon).

With at least another $158 million in projected surplus over the next five years, the PCEF Committee and staff have crafted a process to solicit additional multi-stakeholder projects that creates equitable climate solutions for funding consideration. Proposals must include a partnership between at least one community organization and a public entity that could be a city bureau or an outside entity like a local school district. The goal is to spark innovative partnership ideas that demonstrate strong community engagement and support. All of these additional investments are currently being incorporated into the budget-making process and will necessitate future integration into the CIP in the fall. Stay tuned for upcoming opportunities to weigh in to ensure these climate investments aren’t weakened.