Despite its outsized contribution to local and statewide greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector has never been a key area of focus for the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF). The PCEF is comprised of revenue the city collects from large retailers and doles out via grants to nonprofit organizations for projects intended to reduce Portlanders’ reliance on fossil fuels.
The grants distributed through the PCEF so far have been a mixed bag for clean transportation advocates: while the first round of funding awarded in 2021 neglected transportation projects almost entirely, bikes and non-car transportation featured prominently in the most recent grant cycle.
City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the PCEF, announced Thursday several proposed reforms aimed at, “bigger, bolder, and faster investments to reduce carbon and better respond to climate change.” Rubio’s changes give a larger nod to transportation as both a major source of emissions and a place of great opportunity for decarbonization.
“Through PCEF, we have the opportunity to complete big projects that help to reduce carbon from our two largest sources of
emissions – transportation and housing – and make historic investments in our city’s tree canopy. We must make these investments happen as quickly as possible, and we can do so without compromising oversight and accountability, or community vision,” Rubio states in the press release.
Commissioner Rubio wants to target the PCEF’s investments through five-year “climate investment plans” (CIPs), which she says will “better align PCEF’s work with the City’s other climate action efforts, allowing the fund to proportionally direct money based on shared City priorities.” The PCEF Committee will develop and recommend these CIPs to Portland City Council for approval, and will include funding allocations and program goals for all programs receiving PCEF money.
“Through its first two rounds of granting, community organizations have proposed specific projects. The five-year plan would continue funding community-led work, but would also outline strategic program areas for the bulk of the Fund’s investments,” the press release states.
One of these proposed strategic program areas is transportation decarbonization, where Rubio wants to put $100 million over the next five years. Right now, transportation projects are rolled into the PCEF’s “innovation” category, which Rubio will propose to eliminate altogether, so this is a marked difference.
Rubio wants to implement two strategic programs immediately: “tree canopy growth and maintenance”, which she anticipates receiving $40 million in funding over five years (to quell concerns over how the city ended its contract with Friends of Trees earlier this year?) and “energy efficiencies in new and renovated multi-family affordable housing,” which will receive an anticipated $60 million over five years.
Other anticipated priority programs and five-year funding amounts include:
- Housing and small commercial energy efficiency, renewable energy, and embodied carbon – $300 million
- Resilient community centers – $30 million
- Planning and early investments for a low-carbon, equitable 82nd Ave corridor – $10 million
- Low-cost green financing for carbon-reducing projects – $100 million
It’s likely that part of the reason for this change is because of a city audit published last year that called out the PCEF for its nebulous goals and inadequate accountability measures. The new approach seems to streamline the process and avoid this criticism.
In order to make these reforms to the PCEF, Rubio will have to work the Portland city code a bit. The big change here will be to alter the city code to allow the PCEF to partner with for-profit and government entities including schools administering programs that align with the PCEF’s climate goals.
That’s not all – Rubio also plans to require someone with “significant demonstrated experience in transportation decarbonization” to be on the PCEF committee.
What kinds of programs this new influx of money might fund remain to be seen. E-bike incentives? Beefing up the Biketown stock? The possibilities are endless, but it’s exciting that transportation is finally getting a big seat at the clean energy table.
Rubio will seek input on her plan at tonight’s Portland Clean Energy Fund Committee meeting, and the proposal will be up for discussion and public comment at the October 19 Portland City Council meeting. Stay tuned for more details as this progresses.