One Year Later, Carbon Auctions Thriving in California

KHK pictureAt this time last year, an 11th hour lawsuit was brought by the California Chamber of Commerce on the eve of the state’s first carbon auction —and with it a wave of questions aimed to cast doubt on the landmark program. Will the auction actually happen? Will companies participate? Will allowances sell?

What a difference a year makes.

Since the first auction took place in November of 2012, we’ve come to find out the answers to those questions are – yes, yes, and yes. And, despite attempts to create uncertainty and confusion it’s held true for all four auctions to date.

The Golden State’s carbon market received another dose of confidence last week when state courts upheld California's ability to auction carbon allowances and hold polluters accountable for their harmful emissions.  The ruling came just in time for the state’s fifth auction, which will take place tomorrow.

While the court decision is good news for cap and trade, perhaps even better is the progress that participants and other stakeholders have made in their discussions about the market over the past year.  From the 2013 California Carbon Summit to a recent Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Report, discussions are turning to the future of the carbon market post-2020 and potential linkages with other emissions trading programs.

A year later, the overwhelming sentiment is that the carbon market is here to stay.

Part of this confidence stems from the auction results themselves. In the last auction, all 2016 vintage allowances offered were purchased, signaling belief in the future of the carbon market, as these allowances cannot be used before 2016.  In addition, California companies have become more comfortable participating in the carbon market. This is reflected in the healthy volumes traded daily on the secondary market and the increased stability of prices over the past few months.

The settlement price for 2013 vintage allowances for tomorrow’s auction is forecasted to be lower than that of the previous one, which doesn’t indicate a weak market but rather the increased understanding that compliance will be less costly than previously expected. However, with a floor price of $10.71, which will continue to increase every year, a strong price signal for clean energy improvements remains.

Furthermore, the latest 2012 emissions data released by the California Air Resources Board show an increase in emissions from 2011 in California. This was expected for several reasons including the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the shortage of hydropower generation in 2012, and the state’s significant economic recovery  during that time. California’s economy continues to rebound and the cap-and-trade program will play an important role in the landmark achievement of decoupling this economic growth from growth in carbon pollution that threatens our communities and the world.

Creating an entirely new market around the buying and selling of carbon emissions has been a long and rigorous process, but California’s record over the last year proves it is possible. Look out for EDF’s complete analysis of the successful first year of cap and trade in California at the beginning of 2014.

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