City starts to turn clean energy initiative into reality
The Portland City Council took the first formal steps Thursday to start turning the voter-approved Portland Clean Energy Fund into reality.
In two unanimous votes, the council put rules for the program into city code and authorized the hiring of four city staff to work with a citizens committee, which will recommend projects to spend some of the $54 million and $71 million a year officials estimate will be raised by a new city tax on large corporations.
The campaign was led by a groundbreaking green, brown and black coalition made up of advocacy groups for people of color and environmental causes. Money will support renewable energy, energy efficiency, green agriculture and job training, much of it directed at people who have been left out of the transition to green energy.
One of the original chief sponsors of the initiative was Jo Ann Hardesty, who helped organize the coalition before departing to run her successful campaign for city commissioner.
"What we did was something that I've never seen happen before in Portland, Oregon," Hardesty said during Thursday's council hearing. "I think what that says is we're ready to move beyond our racist history."
Initiative organizers observed that everyone in the Portland area pays a utility surcharge to the Energy Trust of Oregon for energy efficiency, solar and other projects, but most of the funds go to folks with significant cash to finance those home improvements.
"Everybody pays into that but only people who are upper middle class have the opportunity to benefit from that," Hardesty said.
This initiative, which passed by a 65 percent margin in November, will dedicate much of the money to programs targeting low-income residents and people of color.
The money comes from a 1 percent surcharge on corporations with more than $1 billion in national revenue and more than $500,000 in Portland sales.
The initiative was dubbed the Portland Clean Energy Fund, though its formal name is the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund.
The city still doesn't know for sure how much money will be raised, and may not until 2020, though tax liabilities for the big corporations began Jan. 1. The city's estimate of $54 million and $71 million a year is well more than the $30 million initial estimates of campaign backers, but less than the amount cited by some critics from the business sector who sought to derail the measure.
A parade of supporters testified Thursday in support of the city's efforts to launch the initiative. Several, including Hardesty, urged patience, noting that there are high hopes in other cities to do similar programs if Portland is successful.
"Our naysayers will be eager to publicize even minor missteps," said the Rev. E.D. Mondaine, who stepped in as co-petitioner when Hardesty bowed out, and leads the Portland chapter of the NAACP.
Nate McCoy, of the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors, estimated that eventually the program will help pay for 300 to 500 jobs working in the clean energy, energy efficiency and related fields.
But that will take time, as some of the focus will be on job training so more people of color and low-income people can learn skills to do much of the work.
The goal is to award the first grants for projects by July 2020.
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