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Portland Solar: How Renewables Are Shaping the City of Roses

by | Aug 2, 2023

What does it mean to be a green city? For years, walkability was the benchmark for environmental enthusiasts searching for like-minded hubs, but that’s changed as renewable energy sources have become more prominent — and affordable. Utilization for green energy has skyrocketed in metropolitan areas across the United States, helping to offset carbon emissions and limit the effects of climate change.

Portland, Oregon, has helped lead the renewable energy charge, setting ambitious goals as they transition from dirty energy sources to cleaner ones. It’s been named the most sustainable city in the United States, a high mark as major cities like San Francisco put in hefty renewable energy legwork.

How Portland’s Community Became a Solar Leader

Renewable energy investments are the only actionable way to make change. But it isn’t enough to unilaterally pool community resources and hope the public goes along. Instead, local leaders needed to help transition Portland to green energy by making meaningful contributions to the community. The city has done that via Portland’s Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund (PCEF).

The PCEF has authored a community investment fund (CIF) that outlines the process and outcomes of a $750 million investment into the city’s renewable energy infrastructure. Community opt-in is a hallmark of the campaign’s success, as the ultimate goal is to create a brighter future for Portland residents. As such, the program emphasizes community engagement initiatives alongside the transition to green energy sources.

“The Climate Investment Plan is one of many ways the city is addressing the urgency of the climate crisis,” said Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Director Donnie Oliveira in an announcement detailing the fund. “Once approved by Council later this fall, these recommended solutions can help Portland realize its goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 while addressing community and infrastructure resilience.”

Portland’s fund isn’t the result of government overreach, either. The community had the chance to weigh in alongside non-profits, businesses, and other partners, making the project collaborative across every facet of Portland. It’s a blueprint for other green energy adopters across the country, as nothing quite like the CIF has existed in the US thus far, marking Portland’s initiative as a leader in the green energy movement.

The Future of Portland’s Environmental Advocacy

Portland’s natural beauty is a significant draw for the thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who call the city home, emphasizing a sense of stewardship that permeates Portland’s (often bizarre) culture. The city aims to reduce carbon emissions by half by 2030 and be fully carbon neutral by 2050 — milestones that will span generations of leaders.

Portland’s youth have to be onboard long-term to reach these goals. So far, they haven’t disappointed. Across the city, children have been advocating for renewable energy through youth programs that equip children with political leadership and advocacy knowledge to serve them throughout their lives.

The Rockwood Boys & Girls Club boasts one such prominent development. With a $97,500 grant from PGE’s Renewable Development Fund, the building has enough solar panels to produce 117 kWh of electricity. The Boys & Girls Club also installed an educational kiosk that allows children to view energy production and usage from the solar panels, further familiarizing them with renewable energy and the power it can provide.

These developments are critical for reinforcing the value of solar energy to children. Oregon has committed to 100% clean energy by 2040, a goal that Portland’s youth will play a role in achieving.

How Portland Solar Installers Are Driving Change

Portland has long emphasized the importance of a robust local economy, with boutique shops and artisans peppering the city streets. The transition to renewable energy sources has laid a foundation for new types of local businesses to prosper, with wind, hydro, and solar installers raising their flags across the city.

Workers in Portland’s renewable energy industry often have close ties to the City of Roses, either growing up there or falling in love with it after a move. Those workers are determined to help the city in any way they can. For Purelight Power‘s Joseph Spielman, the mission is to provide homeowners with savings amid rising housing costs. “Portland’s cost of living has increased considerably,” Spielman says. “Anything that helps Portland homeowners afford to live there is great.”

Spielman and countless other Portlanders also want to protect the Willamette River. The city has struggled to keep the river clean enough to swim in, and while it’s generally considered safe, Spielman says that many residents are hesitant. Some believe that emphasizing renewable energy sources could start a chain reaction of environmental consciousness resulting in a cleaner river.

Elsewhere, Portland’s solar installers practice environmental advocacy and highlight the government incentive programs making solar more affordable. President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill introduced a 30% tax credit for homeowners that install solar panels, covering a significant portion of the cost of going solar. Of course, someone has to put in the labor of mounting and maintaining solar panels across the city, a challenge that has kept Portland’s solar installers busy.

What’s Next?

Portland has a long way to go before it hits all its goals, but the city is unified in its mission. With new community development projects and residential solar installations helping the city advance to a greener future, Portland is ready to enter a new era. So long as current and future leaders can keep the mission alive, Portland’s destiny will be bright.

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