The New Normal: California-Quebec Auction Clears Above the Floor Price

Photo: Pxhere

By Erica Morehouse and Katelyn Roedner Sutter

California and Quebec released results today for the November 2017 auction which showed steady prices well above the floor for the second auction in a row. The November auction was also the second in a row to sell out of allowances. Both outcomes are a reflection of the secure market that is now set to run through 2030, and demonstrate that the design features of cap and trade are working as expected to maintain a strong and stable program.

November Auction At-a-Glance

  • Approximately $862,407,989 raised for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to invest in a number of programs including clean transportation, urban greening, and improving local air quality.
  • All current vintage allowances were sold of the 79,548,286 offered for sale, including 15,909,657 allowances that were previously unsold in 2016. This is the first auction including held allowances.
  • Current vintage allowances sold at $15.06, $1.49 above the $13.57 floor price. This is 31 cents higher than the August clearing price.
  • All future vintage allowances sold of the 9,723,500 offered for sale. These allowances will not be available for compliance use until 2020. For the second auction in a row, future vintage allowances sold out above the floor price, showing strong confidence in the cap-and-trade program after 2020.

The Nuts and Bolts of Cap and Trade, Important and Working

This auction demonstrated how some of the “behind the scenes” elements of cap and trade are working – and succeeding – to keep the market strong and stable.

Importance of Banking

These auction results show that businesses’ ability to “bank” allowances for use in later years when prices will be higher and the cap tighter are critical for market stability, and most importantly, emissions performance. In 2016 and early 2017, before California legislatively extended its cap-and-trade program from 2020 to 2030, demand for allowances was falling off in part because emissions were already below the cap and the uncertainty of the future program discouraged any banking. With the cap extended to 2030, however, demand and prices are more stable and there is once again a strong incentive for polluters to save their allowances for future years and make cost-effective emission reductions sooner than required for compliance. Early reductions can be cost effective for companies, and are great for the environment.

First Auction to Offer Unsold Allowances

The November auction is the first to offer previously unsold allowances, in this case allowances held over from the 2016 auctions. Last year, when demand for allowances was lower, these unsold allowances were held to be re-offered at later auctions. This adjusted supply downward when needed and adds extra supply when allowances prices start to rise (as they are doing now), creating price stability in the market. These 15 million extra allowances now mean there was enough supply to meet demand.

California Emissions Continue to Decline

Further good news from November, as EDF reported yesterday, is that the California Air Resources Board released their 2016 emissions report and found that emissions covered by cap and trade have not only continued to decline, but are doing so at a faster pace than in previous years.

  • Emissions are a whopping 58 million metric tons below the cap for 2016, an amount equivalent to taking over 14 coal fired power plants off-line for a year. Even if some of these “saved” pollutants are emitted later, this is a win for the atmosphere since there will be several years where they will not be contributing to atmospheric warming.
  • The bulk of these reductions came from the electricity sector, which reduced emissions by increasing renewable production and hydroelectricity and decreasing imports from coal-generated electricity.
  • Transportation emissions did increase in California as they did in the rest of the world. However, the state has a number of policies that are targeted at reducing those emissions and cap and trade is keeping overall emissions in check so they have time to work.

Today’s auction results show one more data point in the example California and Quebec are setting for the world in how to implement effective climate policies. This example was on display at the recent UN Conference of Parties (COP23) in Bonn, Germany that wrapped up last week. Governor Brown as well as three other U.S. Governors and many mayors were in attendance making sure the world knew Donald Trump cannot prevent U.S. states and cities from acting to reduce emissions and protect their residents.

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