Communities lead the way in deciding how Climate Commitment Act funds should be spent


Yakama Power received Climate Commitment Act Funding to support an innovative solar over canal project in the Yakima Valley. $2.75 million will be used to fund the project’s permitting, environmental review and predevelopment work.

Communities will never face equal threat from climate change. Some front-line communities are already experiencing devastating floods, fires, drought and sea-level rise, while others won’t have significant, consistent experiences for several years or even decades. Across the world, the people most at risk from climate change, and the people most likely to feel its affects first, are often those with the fewest resources.

With that in mind, Commerce’s Clean Energy Grant Programs launched a new type of funding opportunity earlier this year. The $83 million opportunity includes $16 million for a targeted tribal clean energy fund and $67 million for Community Decarbonization projects that advance environmental justice and equity. So far, they’ve allocated $7.5 million in awards from the first round for the Tribal Clean Energy Program, and another $72.6 million for Community Decarbonization projects.

“At Commerce, we talk a lot about strengthening communities,” said Commerce Director Mike Fong. “It’s important to recognize that these communities are already strong; they’re already resilient. Our goal with this funding is to help them be even more resilient as climate change alters our world.”

The program uses multiple Climate Commitment Act funding streams and was strategically designed to support most impacted communities first. Next, Commerce will announce awards for a third, general solicitation for clean energy projects, which is open to projects and applicant types from every part of the state.

By creating three unique opportunities from a variety of funding sources, Commerce staff hope more communities will be able to access funding.

“It’s a no-wrong-door approach,” said Commerce Assistant Director and State Energy Office Director Michael Furze. “We are engaging with communities throughout the decision making process, moving toward deeper collaboration where community vision for reducing emissions is central, and they play a leadership role in addressing the complex issue of climate change.”

In creating the funding streams, Commerce sought feedback from communities, tribal representatives, and other agencies in designing a new streamlined approach. It combines multiple funding streams and opportunities into three grant application cycles. Commerce also solicited feedback through an environmental justice assessment process in accordance with the state’s environmental justice law, known as the Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL).

Communities submit one application for a range of funding opportunities, and Commerce staff take on the work of matching their applications and ideas to a funding source. This saves time in weeding through complex administrative and bureaucratic language, reduces the risk of error, and it means the funding team can be more flexible in matching the fund source to the community need.

“We heard clearly from communities that they were confused and overwhelmed by the sheer number of opportunities they found,” said EPIC Managing Director Jennifer Grove. Among other things, communities wanted the information to be more accessible, she said. “So we decided that we would take on more of the burden of matchmaking and pairing apples with apples,” she said.

Also unique to this round of funding is a new partnership with the Department of Health to include deeper community involvement in funding decisions. The two agencies work together on the HEAL interagency workgroup and partnered on this initiative to consolidate efforts and streamline community involvement with state agencies. Specifically, Commerce enlisted a committee of paid advisors with experience in social equity, anti-racism, tribal rights, climate justice and more to evaluate proposals and develop funding recommendations.

Community advisory committee member Edwin Murillo was involved in environmental and community activism in Colombia, his native country. Now an epidemiologist and college instructor, Murillo was thrilled to participate on the committee and uplift projects that were honored by their communities.

“Even though the idea of the projects was all the same, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the way that every institution and organization focused on it was different,” Murillo said. “It was really nice to see how people are conceiving the problem and solution, and how they understand their determinacy to resolve the greenhouse gas problem in the state.”

Although the projects vary in their approach and scope, they’re all focused on creating better outcomes for their communities and beyond, he said.

“At the end of the day, this is a benefit for all of us in the state,” Murillo said.

Willapa Bay Enterprises received $2.7 million for a Renewable Ocean Wave Energy Technology Demonstration Project. The funding supports the design, permitting, siting and construction of technology that produces zero emission hydrogen from ocean wave energy.

Another major change was lowering — and in most cases, removing — the match funding requirement, which can be a significant barrier to accessing state funds. In many cases, state agencies can’t commit to funding until projects meet a threshold of funding from other sources. Once reduced or removed, Commerce can offer more support, more quickly.

Aspects of this approach have been used by other Commerce programs, and it’s supported by data about environmental justice and equity more broadly from across the world.

The state’s Environmental Justice Council advises agencies on how to incorporate environmental justice into their work to reduce health disparities. Environmental justice is the idea that environmental impacts affect communities disproportionately — some communities face immediate and severe risks of flooding, wildfires, drought and other calamities, while others are more insulated. That principle informed much of the design of this opportunity. As the agency’s representative to the council, Furze has been involved in molding its policies to be serve people in Washington.

With research supporting the program and the first round well underway, Grove hopes this new approach will result in helping communities continue to be resilient in the face of new climate challenges. She also hopes it will serve as proof of concept for future funding rounds, in EPIC or elsewhere throughout the agency.

“We want to support community self-determination as they respond to the urgency of climate change,” she said.

By doing that, communities can more equitably prepare for the future ahead.



Washington State Department of Commerce

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