July 24, 2020

The story of the Portland Clean Energy Fund is live!

A photovoltaic solar panel array near Portland State University in downtown Portland.

By now, most people in Multnomah County have heard about the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF). The breakthrough 2018 ballot measure—led by a front-line community coalition including Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Coalition of Communities of Color, NAACP Portland Branch 1120, Native American Youth and Family Center, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon and Verde—raising an estimated $44 million to $61 million annually to support renewable energy, job training, green infrastructure and economic justice projects. The initiative is touted for what it will ultimately accomplish through the investment of these funds, and the story of how this initiative came together is worthy of attention in and of itself.

This week the PCEF coalition released an Executive Summary and full in-depth campaign report that details the coalition’s experiences of building trust within communities of color and with white-majority organizations; securing endorsements with unusual allies; and implementing innovative campaign strategies.

Although front-line communities led the initiative’s creation, it took strong relationships with mainstream environmental and labor organizations to create a successful campaign. These bonds will be critical in achieving the city of Portland and Multnomah County’s 2017 commitment to transition all energy sectors to 100% clean energy. It will take the unique knowledge and lived experiences of each group to ensure these funds result in projects in communities most impacted by climate change while ensuring that people of color can fully participate in the emerging green economy.

As grantmakers, we at Meyer are reflecting on what role our funding might have played in the success of this effort. The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) issued a challenge to foundations to target grant dollars to address the needs of underserved communities and empower them by funding advocacy, organizing and civic engagement. Meyer joined NCRP in 2011 and began supporting communities of color in their efforts to build capacity and expand collaborative power to develop their own policy solutions.

What we’ve learned is that our support can’t stop at the policy win. Meyer has funded multiple projects since 2018 so that the coalition can continue playing a key role in the implementation of the ballot measure as it is established by the city of Portland. Without strong participation by the groups that designed the policy concept, the community values and priorities that have driven this effort are at risk of being de-emphasized or lost altogether.

The grants that Meyer has awarded since the PCEF ballot measure passed include:

  • $143,750 to Verde for the coalition to support early program design work by the nonprofit organizations that led the effort to establish it.
  • $100,000 to the Coalition of Communities of Color to pay for a dedicated staff position to organize and support partner organizations to continue playing a strong role in supporting the implementation of PCEF.
  • $27,000 to Resource Media to develop a communications strategy and tools to share the success of PCEF with other organizations working for a healthy environment

The bottom line is that front-line coalition-led efforts require ongoing, long-term support to ensure that the implementation of their initiatives truly leads to stronger, more resilient communities that will experience the worst of our planet’s climate crisis. You can learn more about PCEF’s efforts in my previous interview with Alan Hipólito.

I look forward to following up in another blog as the coalition's efforts prosper.

Best,

—Mary Rose