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Portland State lands grant to fund ambitious district energy efficiency upgrades
Author: Christina Williams
Posted: June 26, 2014

Can an aggressive push to improve the energy efficiency of an entire city neighborhood improve its economic development prospects? Portland State University (PSU) will investigate this question and many more with the help of a new $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). 

The grant will support an ambitious district-wide energy efficiency upgrade in the SoMa (south of Market Street) neighborhood at the south end of downtown Portland. The three-phase project includes the upgrade of PSU’s West Heating Plant, which replaces an old boiler with a highly efficient upgrade. Later this year, experts will install next-generation energy metering software and corresponding meters for 18 Portland State buildings and three private buildings in the SoMa district that surrounds the campus. Finally, a visualization theater— seven 90-inch monitors paired with a high-powered computer—will be installed at Portland State, allowing students, staff, and energy officials the ability to model energy use scenarios for individual buildings and the district as a whole. 

“This grant will position Portland State as a leader in energy efficiency research,” said Erin Flynn, associate vice president in PSU’s Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships. “We’ve always considered our campus a ‘Living Laboratory’ for sustainable practices, but this project pushes boundaries and will provide a model for other dense urban neighborhoods across the country.” 

As the project is implemented over the next two years, PSU will strengthen its role as an anchor institution in SoMa, one of the original EcoDistricts designated by the city of Portland in 2010, and build partnerships with energy industry players throughout the region. 

“This project investment is a significant win for SoMa and for the ecodistrict concept,” said Bob Naito, a Portland developer, co-chair of the SoMa board of directors, and owner of a building that will receive the upgraded metering system. “We know that having a robust district strategy for energy efficiency can be an attractor for business. This work will allow us to prove that theory while continuing to enhance the livability and sustainability of our neighborhood.” 

Portland State has allocated $2.1 million for the project as part of the matching funds required by the EDA.