Climate Infrastructure Fund FAQ
The Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is accepting applications for capital improvement funding through the Climate Infrastructure Fund. Answers to common questions about the fund and application process is below. Please note that this page may be updated with additional information from time to time.
Additional resources for applicants can be found at the Climate Infrastructure Fund Resources page.
What kinds of projects are the City looking to fund?
Projects should fall under one of the following categories:
- Renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements, including solar panels, wind turbines geothermal systems and efficiency upgrades involving a building’s electrical or mechanical systems, building envelope and more.
- Electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Purchase of vehicles may only be for business operations/use, while charging stations may be for organization use and by the public.
- Green infrastructure-related site improvements that help manage stormwater, including green roofs, permeable pavement, and native plantings.
Are funds expected to be divided equally across the three project types?
There is no set percentage of funds expected for each project type. The funding split will be determined based on the applications received.
Is funding available for projects that extend the use of fossil fuels?
No, there will be no funds made available for the purchase of natural gas or other fossil fuel equipment, regardless of their efficiency.
What if my project spans multiple categories?
Applicants should submit applications for a given project to only one project type. If an applicant is proposing multiple distinct projects, these must each be submitted as a separate application and each submittal must include its own documentation to be evaluated apart from the other applications. Each project should fall within a single project type.
Do other incentives and resources exist to help get my project started?
The Climate Infrastructure Fund Resources website has more information on available incentives, energy assessments, and other state and local resources.
What opportunities are there for contractors, installers, or service providers to get involved? Can I be added to an approved vendor list?
DPD does not maintain approved vendor lists. We suggest reaching out to entities that do maintain such lists, such as ComEd.
Can my project span multiple sites?
Yes. Individual projects that span multiple sites owned or controlled by a single entity can be submitted via a single application. If a series of sites owned by multiple entities is envisioned as part of a broader "portfolio" of projects, a separate application must be submitted for each project. Applicants should make reference to the connection to other projects in the Project Description section of the application.
Timeline and Awards
When does the current application period close?
The current application round opened on Day/Date and closest at 11:59 p.m. CST on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023.
When are award notifications expected to be announced?
Late spring 2023.
How are grant amounts calculated?
Grant amounts are based on application strength, total project costs and requested amount.
How many projects are funded in each application round?
Total projects per round depend on the number and quality of submissions.
Are grant funds provided upfront or as reimbursements?
Grants are provided as reimbursements based on invoices for eligible costs. Invoices may be submitted at major project milestones. Awardees do not need to wait until project completion.
How much time is allowed for project completion?
Competitive applications should demonstrate ability to break ground within six months and should aim to be completed within two years.
Do grant recipients still need to apply for building permits?
Yes, selected projects that require zoning approval, building permits or other permits and approvals will still need to go through the proper processes. This should be noted in the project timeline in your application.
What types of organizations are eligible for infrastructure grants?
Any 501(c)3 nonprofit organization or small business is eligible. The City of Chicago will prioritize projects in environmental justice communities.
Are churches or other religious / faith-based institutions eligible?
All Chicago-based 501(c)(3) nonprofits are eligible, including religious institutions. However, in order to comply with Constitutional limits, grant funds cannot be applied to a religious use, which would need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
How is “small business” defined?
Small businesses are defined as commercial businesses with gross annual sales of up to $9 million on average over the previous three years. In addition, the following specific types of businesses are ineligible for funding, regardless of gross annual sales:
- Industrial businesses
- Lodging (e.g. B&Bs, hotels/motels, vacation rentals)
- Chain and franchise businesses
- Branch banks
- Day labor employment agencies
- Currency exchanges, pay day and title-secured loan stores
- Pawn shops
- Fortune telling services
- Liquor stores and night clubs
- Adult uses
- Track waging facilities
- Gas stations
- Firearms dealers
- Smoke shops and cigar lounges
- Tobacco dealers, including sales of tobacco, nicotine or similar products and accessories
- Residential storage warehouses
- Trailer-storage yards, junk yards and similar uses
I am not a resident of Chicago. Can I still apply?
Chicago residency is not required of the applicant, but all projects must be located within city limits.
Are organizations/businesses located outside of Chicago eligible for funding.
No. The address of the organization/business must be located within Chicago.
Are residential projects or homeowners eligible for funding?
No, the Climate Infrastructure Fund is not available for residential projects. An exception is made for Group Living facilities (as defined in the Zoning Ordinance) operated by 501(c)(3) organizations.
Can I apply if I have a home-based business?
Businesses located in non-commercial properties are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In all instances, the business owner must maintain all applicable business licenses and proposals must exclusively involve business use. Grants cannot be used for personal or non-business purposes.
Are applicants eligible for Climate Infrastructure Fund grants even if they’ve received other types of grants from the City?
Yes. Prior City funding does not disqualify potential applicants. Applications should explain why additional City funding is needed for the same project of if the request is for a newly proposed project. However, applications for multiple DPD grants (e.g. Community Development Grants, Equitable Transit-Oriented Development, Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, etc.) for a single project within a single application period are not permitted and will be disqualified.
Are applications allowed for projects that include the pending acquisition of private or public land, such as the through the Cook County Land Bank or ChiBlockBuilder?
Yes. Site control is preferred through ownership, lease or long-term permission, but a clear path to site control is acceptable, whether through a memorandum of understanding from the owner or a documented application to one of these government land programs. The City of Chicago may offer additional guidance on a case-by-case basis.
Does the City provide letters of intent to applicants interested in using City-owned lots?
No. To be fair to all applicants, the City does not issue letters of intent about potential City-land sales.
Do applications require detailed construction estimates?
Construction cost estimates and architectural/engineering plans are not required to apply but are strongly recommended to demonstrate project readiness.
Do applications require detailed energy assessments?
Building energy assessments for energy efficiency/renewable energy projects are not required to complete the application. However, recent energy assessments or proof of pending assessments are strongly recommended to demonstrate project readiness. Energy assessments are required for final budget approval.
Are Climate Infrastructure Grant projects required to comply with MBE/WBE contracting or prevailing wage standards?
All grant recipients must comply with the State’s prevailing wage policies. Grantees receiving $250,000 or more must comply with the City’s construction requirements, including WBE/MBE and local hiring.
Are applicants disqualified if the project site has building code violations?
Renewable energy/energy efficiency projects that require building permits may also use a portion of funds to address deferred maintenance issues. These proposals are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and applicants should work to clear violations or code issues, when possible. Applications for sites without outstanding code issues are prioritized.
Are projects that have already broken ground or are in progress eligible to apply?
Yes. Applications for projects that are underway should focus on funding required for remaining project costs. Funding will only be considered for elements that have not yet been purchased or installed. In addition, predevelopment expenses incurred during the application process (e.g. energy assessments, design drawings) can be reimbursed. Completed projects are not eligible.
Can organizations apply as a partnership, including partners from outside Chicago or partners that do not qualify as 501(c)(3) nonprofits or small businesses?
DPD encourages applicants to partner with organizations that may improve their capacity to complete a proposed project (e.g. with technical assistance, project design, etc.). Partners have no geographic or revenue limitations, but grant recipients must be 501(c)(3) nonprofits or small businesses based in Chicago, and projects must be located within the city limits.
Are projects proposed on public property eligible? (e.g. public right-of-way, parks, schools, etc.).
Only projects on private property are eligible at this time.
Use of Funds
What kinds of costs are eligible for each project category?
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: Costs may include installation of on-site renewable energy (including solar, wind and geothermal), upgraded space heating and cooling with electric heat pumps, electric panel upgrades, air sealing and insulation, lighting efficiency upgrades, heat pump water heaters, and induction cooking (when replacing an existing service only). Projects that replace fossil-fuel related space heating are prioritized. Funding is not provided for energy conservation measures that extend reliance on fossil fuels. Ongoing maintenance and operations, staff training and all other operational costs must be maintained by the submitting agency and are not eligible fund expenditures.
Electric Vehicles and Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure: Costs may include the purchase of electric vehicles (EV) (excluding hybrid vehicles, electric bikes and electric scooters) and may include the installation of EV charging infrastructure. Funds may include support for related electric panel upgrades. Funding may not include costs related to connecting to an EV charging infrastructure network; however, funding is allowable for the wi-fi upgrade necessary to be able to do so. An assessment from a qualified engineer or consultant is required for all projects that include EV charging infrastructure, electric panel upgrades and related wi-fi improvements. Installation must be completed by an Illinois Commerce Commission Certified Electric Vehicle Charging Station Installer. Funded projects must be maintained long term by the submitting agency.
Green Infrastructure: Costs may include but are not limited to native plantings and soil systems, bioswales, trees, permeable pavement, rainwater harvest and reuse (for irrigation and landscape features only), green roofs, a green infrastructure garden or other similar projects. The City prioritizes comprehensive projects over single-item infrastructure proposals. Applications with draft or completed site plans are also prioritized, however site design is an allowable expense for projects that can be completed within two years. Funded projects must be maintained long term by the submitting agency.
Can grants be used for staffing or longer-term operations and maintenance?
No. Grants are limited to permanent, climate-related infrastructure investments and cannot be used for organization or business operations and maintenance, including staff costs.
Is new building construction eligible?
No. Projects must involve improvements to existing buildings (such as energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy installation, or infrastructure for electric vehicles), the purchasing of electric vehicles or fleets, and the installation of green infrastructure.
Are acquisition costs eligible?
Yes, acquisition expenses can be included in the grant request as part of total project cost. However, not every proposal receives the applied-for funding amount. Acquisition costs must be part of a larger infrastructure project that is being submitted. Prioritization is given to acquisitions of City lots. Grant funds cannot cover acquisition costs exclusively.
Are pre-development costs, such as energy assessments or engineering/design fees, eligible?
Are furniture, fixtures, and equipment eligible?
Can funds be used for environmental remediation?
Yes, if the remediation if it is part of a larger construction project. For example, remediation is an eligible cost for projects that lead to green infrastructure projects.
Can an entire project be funded by the grant?
Yes, grants may be used to pay for up to 100% of eligible project costs. Final cost eligibility is determined upon review by City staff.
Are grants available for more than $250,000 or less than $50,000?
Exceptions are possible for projects that demonstrate a high degree of catalytic impact but grants between $50,000 and $250,000 are preferred for this program.
Can I still apply for a small grant if my proposal doesn’t pass the project assessment tool in “Submittable”?
Proposals that do not pass the project assessment tool are not competitive for this program. The Resources Page provides tools to help prepare proposals for a competitive grant application.
Can paper applications be submitted?
No. All applications must be submitted online per instructions on the Climate Infrastructure Fund website.
What type of documentation is required for applications by tenants versus property owners?
A copy of the lease, preferably for a substantial period of time, along with a letter of consent from the property owner or landlord. Additional documentation may be requested on a case-by-case basis.
I am an installer / consultant / service provider. Can I apply on behalf of an end user?
Applications may be submitted by individuals that are assisting a nonprofit organization or small business. However, grant funds will only be disbursed to the end user, not directly to a contractor or consultant.
Can I apply for a portfolio of multiple projects? What if each project has a different user?
Multiple projects require multiple applications. Grants will only be awarded to end users and cannot be used to create “sub-awards” distributed by a recipient to other users.
Several questions don’t apply specifically to my project type, but are still marked as mandatory — how should I answer these questions?
If a specific question doesn’t apply to your project (e.g. questions about the “project site” for an EV purchase project), feel free to enter “not applicable” or similar. However, we encourage applicants to provide as much related information as possible to ensure reviewers have a full picture of the proposed project.
How are project awardees selected?
Each application is evaluated on three overarching criteria: climate-focus, equity and project feasibility/readiness. A brief overview of each criterion is provided below:
- Climate-focused. This criterion assesses whether a proposed project directly supports climate action, environmental justice or community resilience. Indicators may include anticipated environmental benefits, emission reductions, cost savings, reduced runoff, community health benefits and more. Other indicators could include number of community members impacted (when relevant). Additional factors may include alignment with the Chicago Climate Action Plan, We Will Chicago and other city priorities.
- Equity-centered. This criterion assesses whether a proposed project advance racial, climate and/or health equity. Indicators include the race and ethnicity of communities impacted by the proposal, BIPOC workforce opportunities, the communities engaged in the process and the connection between the proposal’s approach and the geography where it is located.
- Project Feasibility and Readiness. This criterion assesses whether a proposed project is ready to be successfully implemented. Indicators include site ownership of or clear path to site control, adequate staffing levels, other funding resources, and an ongoing plan for long-term operations and maintenance. Applications that include site plans, development plans, energy assessments and/or other proof-of-concept documents are prioritized.
Is information about selected projects publicly available?
Awarded projects are subject to public announcements, including the project name, location and initial grant amount.
If a proposed project is not accepted for funding in a given round, can the applicant submit the application in a subsequent round?
How does equity factor into the selection process?
All projects are encouraged to consider equity as part of their project design and anticipated outcomes. Priority is given to projects within environmental justice communities based on socioeconomic and environmental factors, as well as alignment with other City policies, plans and initiatives, such as the 2022 Climate Action Plan, We Will Chicago (Environment, Climate and Energy Pillar), the Chicago Building Decarbonization Policy Working Group Recommendations Report, and INVEST South/West.