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The city surcharge announced a new Heat Response Program that will seek to give out between 12,000 and 15,000 heat pumps over five years.

COURTESY: US DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY - An outdoor mounted heat pump is shown here. The city's eco-energy fund is planning on pooling its piles of cash to keep Portlanders cool.

The Portland Clean Energy Fund announced a new Heat Response Program on Thursday, Oct. 21 — an effort to mitigate future scorching weather, like the unprecedented summer temperatures that left 60 people dead in Multnomah County and accounted for 500 deaths across the Pacific Northwest.

"This heat wave was the deadliest documented natural disaster in Multnomah County's history since white-colonial settlement," the fund said in a statement. "While it is difficult to predict the next extreme heat event, it is clear that vulnerable Portlanders need access to cooling systems."

The Clean Energy Fund — which tacks on a 1% charge to retailers with revenue of $500,000 here and $1 billion nationally — had $109 million in its coffers as of July 1, a sign of how far money collection has surpassed the estimates presented to voters who OK'd the ballot measure in late 2018.

With requests for proposals open to local nonprofits as of this week, the new program hopes to launch by May or June of next year and distribute between 12,000 and 15,000 portable heat pumps and cooling units over the following five years, with special priority placed on addressing heat hazards for seniors, low-income people and residents who are Black, Indigenous or a person of color.

The program will also seek to lower energy bills and keep the units functional. Heat pumps, beyond being more efficient than a regular air conditioner, can both heat and cool a room using an exhaust tube connected to a window.

One nonprofit will be selected as a "purchasing partner" for centralized equipment delivery and distribution, while several other groups will be selected to install and provide information about the devices to community members, as well as potentially offering basic weatherization kits.

"The extreme heat events of June 2021 stressed, harmed and killed vulnerable Oregonians living without air conditioning," according to a press release. "And the news of households suffering emphasized the need to provide vulnerable Portlanders with access to cooling in their homes."

For more information, or to apply, visit the city's website.

Zane Sparling
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