Clean Energy Fund update (finally) gives transportation its due

Bike buses funded by PCEF? Why not! (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“I think Coach Balto’s bike bus is the coolest thing on the planet. We should be putting that in every public school in the City of Portland. That’s what I call decarbonization.”

– Jo Ann Hardesty, Portland city commissioner

It’s not news that driving and transportation in general emits more fossil fuels than any other sector across the city, state and country. But local efforts to curb climate change have largely overlooked this fact. One such program is the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF). Created via a 2018 ballot measure and funded by a tax the city collects from large retailers, PCEF has left transportation projects on the side of the road.

But that is likely to change as of Wednesday’s Portland City Council meeting.

Council unanimously agreed to amend the PCEF code to “better align with and equitably meet the City’s climate action goals.” A part of that realignment is to give credit to the role that transportation reform can play in reducing fossil fuel emissions. The amendment was put forth last month by Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who heads the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability that houses the PCEF.

The crux of the changes to PCEF aim to create better structure and strategy within the program via a new Climate Investment Plan (CIP) component. The CIP, which will be developed over the next nine months by PCEF’s Grant Committee, will set the rules for which projects the fund should prioritize over the next five years.

Rubio’s team developed a basic framework for the CIP that will get fleshed out by the PCEF Grant Committee over the next nine months. Right now, the CIP details two “strategic initiatives” set for near-term deployment:

— Strategic initiative #1: Growing an equitable tree canopy, workforce and contracting pool to support the City’s tree canopy cover goals – $40 million five-year funding allocation
— Strategic initiative #2: Raising the bar on efficiency and renewable energy upgrades in new and redeveloped regulated affordable multifamily housing – $60 million five-year funding allocation

The current CIP framework also includes six categories with a dedicated amount of funding allocated over the next five years (emphasis mine):

— Housing and small commercial energy efficiency, renewable energy, and embodied carbon – $300 million
— Resilient community centers – $30 million
— Transportation decarbonization – $100 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
— Building community-based organizational capacity – $8 million

The new code also includes a requirement to have someone on the PCEF committee who has “significant demonstrated experience” in transportation decarbonization.

At a public hearing for the code changes at City Council last week, some transportation advocates spoke up in favor of the amendment.

“Transportation and the built environment are two of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the City of Portland…Expanding PCEF programs aimed at these two sectors in particular and focusing on populations that are underserved…represent key opportunities to meet the city’s climate, climate goals and deliver equitable outcomes,” said Victoria Paykar, Oregon transportation policy manager for the nonprofit Climate Solutions. “Decarbonization should include projects that displace car trips and push for mode shifts and… improve our air quality and quality of life by building more resilient and connected communities.”

Zachary Lauritzen, the 82nd Ave Coalition project manager at Oregon Walks, asked City Council to ensure transportation decarbonization efforts extend beyond electric cars, which often get the lion’s share of funding.

“To see transportation decarbonization on here is really important. But I want to note a word of caution, which is that sometimes transportation decarbonization become synonymous with electrification and charging infrastructure,” Lauritzen said. “Those are incredibly important things, but unless we talk very honestly about transportation mode change, then we’re missing the mark in terms of transformational change.”

Lauritzen also suggested the PCEF could support transportation equity and reduce fossil fuel use by supporting walking school buses or bike buses in east Portland. Sam Balto’s bike buses have been a success in Portland’s Alameda neighborhood, but people who live in parts of the city with less favorable infrastructure have a much harder time feeling safe sending their kids to school on a bike.

Portland Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty agreed with Lauritzen.

“I absolutely don’t want the utilities to suck up all the PCEF money electrifying the community that will never be able to afford an electric car. I am absolutely committed to making sure that as we develop 82nd Avenue it’s ready for lots of modes of transportation,” Hardesty said. “I think Coach Balto’s bike bus is the coolest thing on the planet. We should be putting that in every public school in the City of Portland. That’s what I call decarbonization.”

But Hardesty will have limited say in how the funds are spent because she’s in charge of the transportation bureau, not the planning bureau. It will be interesting to see how or if PBOT will play a role in which projects are ultimately funded.

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soren
soren
3 months ago

electrifying the community that will never be able to afford an electric car

2023 Chevy bolts will be available for as low as $13,100 for people that fully qualify for all Oregon and Federal tax credits. And people that fully qualify for federal and state used EV credits can purchase a used leaf or bolt for as little as $5,500. I encourage all blog readers who drive SUVs/trucks* to get rid of their monstrous death mobiles and go car free. If this is not possible, trade in your air-toxic-emitting death mobile and purchase a Bolt or Leaf – the only modestly-sized EVs that are widely available.

*This comment especially applies to climate organizers/champions who own SUVs/trucks while throwing shade at EVs. You know who you are.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  soren

Now we just need to figure out how people living in apartments can charge their vehicles, especially where enlightened policy forces people to park on the street.

soren
soren
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

We simply need more public chargers and especially street light pole charging spots. London, for example, has ~5,000 street-light-based chargers with plans for many thousands more.

Level 1 chargers are sufficient for the majority of drivers* so I’m not a fan of mandating a large number of Level 2 chargers at apartment buildings. Employers and commercial destinations should have level 2 charger mandates, however.

*A dedicated 20 Amp level 1 circuit can add ~5 miles per hour.

Watts
Watts
3 months ago
Reply to  soren

I’m not sure 120V will cut it, but that’s not for me to decide.

Either way, it’s going to be expensive and probably more complicated than it sounds (as these things often are). Hopefully vandals will not go around unplugging people’s cars at night.

Either way, we’d better get to work.

soren
soren
3 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I’m a renter that charges with the neighbor’s 120V outlet and I get ~60 miles of range after an overnight charge. Very few people drive more than 40 miles a day. (I use the neighbor’s outlet because all of the outlets in my apartment fault out due to poor grounding.)

Hopefully vandals will not go around unplugging people’s cars at night.

Theft of charging cables for their copper has become a huge problem in Portland. Several public stations in inner SE PDX are currently off line due to cable theft. Sadly, I expect this problem to worsen because copper prices are very high.

Chris I
Chris I
2 months ago
Reply to  soren

How many sheets of 4×8 plywood can I put in the bed of the Chevy Bolt?

Buster
Buster
3 months ago

I really hope some of this funding will be used to buy a ton more Biketown e-bikes! There is such a shortage out there ever since they expanded the boundaries without increasing the number of bikes.

Rafa Corto
Rafa Corto
2 months ago

The PCEF is one big slush fund. Did you see what they did? Carmen Rubio and crew almost gave $12 million to a convicted fraudster. https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2021/12/portland-awarded-12m-clean-energy-contract-to-executive-with-long-history-of-financial-misdeeds-unpaid-taxes.html