Author Archives: Erica Morehouse

What to expect from Ontario’s first carbon auction

This post originally appeared on ipolitics.ca.

Air pollution in Toronto. Photo credit: Flickr/ United Nations Photo

On Apr. 3, the Ontario government will announce the results of its first ever auction of pollution permits under its new cap-and-trade program aimed at cutting the emissions that contribute to global warming. As historic and newsworthy as the event may be, it would be wrong to read too much into the results as a measure of the success of the overall environmental program.

Ontario’s cap-and-trade program, launched on Jan. 1, requires emitters such as power plants to surrender a “carbon allowance” for every ton of pollution they produce. The ‘cap’, or limit on emissions, will be reduced over time, ensuring continuing reductions of emissions. The ‘trade’ — allowing emitters to sell excess allowances on the market — provides emitters with a flexible, cost-effective path to going green.

The Ontario government will auction many of these carbon allowances, as they did this month, and the new climate law requires all proceeds to be reinvested in public transit, green technologies and other environmental endeavors that reduce carbon pollution.

The actual auction was held Mar. 22, and offered for sale a total of 28 million allowances at about $17 each. Theoretically, that means the final result announced in April could be hundreds of millions of dollars raised by the province for investments in green projects.

History suggests the actual sum could be considerably less.

Results from recent California and Quebec auctions, which could influence Ontario’s results, have varied widely; those auctions sold 88 per cent and then 18 per cent of available allowances in the two most recent auctions.

There’s a number of reasons why cap-and-trade programs can get off to a relatively slow start.

Relatively soft auction results in the early stages of a cap-and-trade program may simply indicate that the system is working exactly as it was designed.

In the initial stages, for instance, many polluters can find relatively simple ways to cut their emissions enough to meet their cap for the year and thereby avoid having to buy allowances. Or, since they have a few years before they are required to turn in the required allowances, they could simply wait to purchase them.

Many allowances also will be provided to businesses for free — especially those energy-intensive businesses that have competitors in other jurisdictions not subject to similar climate regulations.

Relatively soft auction results in the early stages of a cap-and-trade program may simply indicate that the system is working exactly as it was designed — by allowing industries to make a gradual transition to lower emissions without causing undue economic upheaval or job losses.

Cap-and-trade programs already are showing that economic prosperity and ambitious climate action can go hand in hand. Ontario’s system is modeled after the joint program between Quebec and California, which have both seen carbon pollution decline even as their economies thrived in their first four years of cap-and-trade. In fact, in the first four years of California’s program, emissions under the cap declined while jobs were added faster than the national average — and California’s GDP grew to make the state the fifth largest economy in the world.

The Ontario scheme is designed to achieve similar environmental and economic results by easing consumers, businesses and industries gradually into the new cap-and-trade regime which will put the province on track to a low-carbon economy.

Ontario was able to develop and implement a rigorous but flexible emission-reduction program in less than half the time it took California and Quebec, an example of how climate giants can spur faster and more ambitious action by working together.

A significant feature of Ontario’s plan is that it includes a proposed linkage with Quebec and California’s market. That would mean carbon allowances could be used interchangeably in all three locations, and that Ontario would begin auctioning allowances at the same time as California and Quebec, who held their last auction in February.

Ontario has a rich history of environmental innovation, and its cap-and-trade program is poised to be a key component of its larger climate policy.

As tempting as it may be to judge the Ontario cap-and-trade program by the revenues it will generate, by far the more important measure of success is what it will do for the environment.

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California-Quebec carbon market participants appear to wait for future auctions and more information

California cap and trade, renewable energy

California's Alta Wind Energy Center, Image Source: flickr

Carbon auction results released today show low demand for California’s carbon allowances in the first carbon auction of 2017, with only 18% of allowances selling.

The results say more about the many milestones that are ahead for the cap-and-trade program rather than anything about the cap-and-trade program’s core function of reducing overall emissions.

Results from the February 22 auction show:

  • The auction offered more than 65 million current vintage allowances (available for 2016 or later compliance) and sold about 11.6 million. Most of these allowances were utility-held allowances and some were from the province of Quebec. No ARB current allowances sold.
  • Almost 10 million future allowances were offered that will not be available for use until 2020 or later; a little over 600,000 of those allowances sold.
  • This means only about $8 million was raised for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

Why cap and trade is working

Auction results themselves cannot tell us whether cap-and-trade is “working.” Though selling most allowances offered at stable prices at or above the minimum or floor price is generally a good sign, the reverse does not necessarily indicate that something went wrong with the cap-and-trade program itself. Disappointing auction result could simply be a product of the market’s expectation that more information on which to make an investment decision and plenty of allowances will be available in the future.

The best indicator is whether greenhouse gas emissions are declining.

The best indicator of whether California’s climate policies, including cap and trade, are working is whether greenhouse gas emissions are declining. As we reported in November’s auction blog, all indications suggest California’s policies are reducing emissions.

Another important factor is whether California’s economy continues to thrive as the state implements some of the most ambitious climate policies in the world. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2016, California continued to add jobs faster than the national average, as it has in every year that cap and trade has been in place.

So what explains current low demand

Outstanding litigation brought by the California Chamber of Commerce and others challenging California’s cap-and-trade program design is likely still hampering sales of allowances and negatively affecting the auction, as many participants may be waiting to see how the Court of Appeals rules on the legality of carbon market auctions. Oral Arguments were held in late January and a decision is likely by the end of April.

At the same time, Governor Brown in January asked the Legislature to extend the cap and trade program beyond 2020 with a two-thirds vote; the supermajority vote, also recommended by the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, could insulate the cap-and-trade program from legal challenges like the one brought by the Chamber. Two bills currently in the Assembly – AB 378 (C. Garcia) and AB 151 (Burke) – could both facilitate the extension of cap and trade and be passed with a two-thirds vote. But we are still early in this process and the market is clearly still waiting to see how the Legislation plays out.

What we can understand from California’s February carbon auction

  • Regulated businesses under the cap-and-trade program will have to purchase a large portion of available allowances in order to comply with the cap-and-trade program requirements. It appears they have just decided to deploy the wait-and-see strategy they utilized in May and August, perhaps hoping for more information perhaps in advance of the next auction.
  • One thing that is different between this auction and the May auction that also saw similarly low demand, allowances prices on the secondary market were quite close to the current floor price of $13.57. This means that entities are still valuing carbon allowances close to the floor price, showing expectations of a steady market in the future, there just wasn’t quite enough demand to soak up all the supply in this auction.
  • The November auction when 88% of allowances sold was the last time participants were able to buy allowances for $12.73 at auction instead of the 2017 floor price of $13.57.  This opportunity for lower cost allowances seems to explain the higher demand in November.
  • Importantly, the ARB allowances that went unsold represent a temporary tightening of the cap. They will not be offered again until two auctions have fully sold all available current allowances. This is an important self-regulating design feature of the cap-and-trade program that helps stabilize prices in the face of inevitable market fluctuations in supply and demand.

What to expect from 2017 auctions

Two major developments this spring may provide more certainty about the post-2020 cap-and-trade program, which we’ve noted before could significantly increase auction demand. First, there will likely be a decision from the appeals court on the California Chamber of Commerce case. There could also be more clarity on the bill or package of bills that could move through the Legislature this year.

The core functions of the cap-and-trade program are operating as intended, reducing carbon emissions while the economy thrives.  But it remains to be seen whether the Legislature will be able to act to provide the highest level of certainty for the cap-and-trade market.

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Good news in California as carbon auction results improve, and carbon emissions continue falling

Co-authored by Erica Morehouse and Jonathan Camuzeaux.

While we hope President-elect Trump will listen to the almost unanimous global voice of governments and business leaders who all understand that we must act to avert catastrophic climate change, it’s indisputable that leadership from U.S. states will be of paramount importance. Amidst this chaos and uncertainty California and Quebec are now four years into a successful cap-and-trade program with shrinking carbon pollution footprints and thriving economies.

California and Quebec released results today from a much anticipated carbon auction that took place on November 15, and sold a greater number of allowances than in the past two auctions resulting in proceeds for the state Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.  This good news comes after California’s 2015 greenhouse gas reporting data earlier this month showed another year of carbon pollution decline for the Golden State.

These year-over-year pollution declines are the most important indicator of success.  But understandably the auction performance and amount raised for climate investment priorities will get a lot of attention in California, Quebec, and Ontario, which is slated to launch its own cap-and-trade program in January with linkage likely to California and Quebec in 2018.

Auction results see increased demand

The November 15 auction offered more than 87 million current vintage allowances (available for 2016 or later compliance) and sold almost 77 million. Approximately 10 million future allowances were offered that will not be available for use until 2019 or later; over one million of those allowances were sold.

These auction results represent a significant increase in demand from the August auction which offered a similar number and sold about 31 million allowances, up from a little over eight million allowances sold at the May auction, the first auction to experience very low demand for allowances.  The May and August auctions raised almost no revenue for the California Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF).  While final numbers won’t come in for another few weeks, based on the allowances sold, this auction likely raised over $360 million for the California GGRF. 

Impacts on demand for this auction

A number of factors, good and otherwise, contributed to this quarter’s results.

  1. One of the most immediate factors that likely contributed to increased demand in this auction is the knowledge that the minimum sale price or “floor price” will rise to about $13.50 in 2017. This is the last auction that participants will be able to purchase allowances for $12.73 before the annual increase.
  1. A constant during this and previous auctions is litigation brought by the California Chamber of Commerce and others challenging California’s cap-and-trade program design. The case was brought the day before California’s very first auction in 2012 and California won at the trial court level. The plaintiffs appealed, and the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on January 24, 2017. This outstanding litigation may be leading some potential auction participants to take a wait-and-see approach.
  1. This wait-and-see approach is only possible if regulated businesses in California already have enough allowances to cover their 2016 obligations. California just released preliminary data for 2015 which shows emissions were about 14 percent below the cap. This suggests a successful set of climate policies that are incentivizing polluters to lower levels of pollution below required levels if they are able.  Some have referred to this as an oversupply of allowances, but it’s perhaps more accurate to refer to it as over-compliance.  Businesses have a choice of how to respond when they over-comply: avoid buying allowances in a future auction or buy allowances when they are presumably cheaper and bank them for future use.

A big question is how much the passage of SB 32 in August has impacted auction demand.  Governor Brown had previously established a target of reducing carbon pollution 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 through an executive order, but SB 32 cemented this requirement into law making it much more certain.  Setting a 2030 target could increase demand for allowances, but the market will not necessarily get certainty about that target or how California will meet it in one fell swoop.  While SB 32 set the 2030 target, like AB 32 it was silent on policy tools to meet that target so decisions about cap-and-trade post-2020 are still outstanding.

Greenhouse gas emissions decline again in 2015

California’s Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting program requires that state’s largest polluters to report their emissions annually. The California Air Resources Board released the final tally of 2015 greenhouse gas emissions on November 4th, which showed yet another year of carbon pollution decrease.

In 2015, California’s emissions covered under the cap-and-trade program decreased by roughly one percent compared to the year before. California is on track to meet its target of reducing pollution to 1990 levels by 2020.  Carbon pollution for capped and uncapped sources was down in 2015.

Meanwhile, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows the state’s gross domestic product increased by almost six percent in 2015 – while California also experienced an increase of total employment of a little over two percent in 2015 – proving again that economic output and emissions don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

With these results California is on solid footing to continue as a beacon of hope for climate action in the United States and perhaps even to attract new partners inside or outside the country who are ready to join a successful program.

 

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California’s ambitious new climate commitments follow 10 years of success

Photo credit: Joseph Thornton | Flickr.com

California made history a decade ago this month by being first in the nation to pass legislation (AB 32) putting an absolute limit on carbon pollution through 2020.

The California Legislature made history again last week by extending and strengthening those limits to 2030 (SB 32 and AB 197). SB 32 requires California to reduce pollution 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 – as ambitious as Europe’s climate policies – and provides the flexibility to use a variety of tools to accomplish this goal. The governor has announced he will sign both bills.

Legislators also passed a spending plan yesterday that will direct approximately $900 million in cap-and-trade proceeds to reduce pollution and benefit California communities, especially the most disadvantaged.  Another bill passed yesterday, AB 1550, increases the commitments of those disadvantaged communities and makes low-income communities beneficiaries as well.

California’s decision to set these new targets and establish this new spending plan was not just based on hope and necessity, but on a 10-year foundation of success and a solid understanding that this next set of targets are ambitious but achievable.

Here’s why California’s climate program has been a success, and why the new long-term emissions reduction target will help the state continue to thrive.

California’s carbon pollution is declining.

AB 32 requires California reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a reduction estimated at about 15% below where emissions would have been without regulation.  To meet these reductions, California has adopted a suite of climate policies anchored by a cap-and-trade program, which puts an absolute limit on carbon pollution, while providing cost-effective options for businesses to meet their reduction obligations.

California’s carbon pollution has steadily declined in the last 10 years. In the first two years that the cap-and-trade system was in place (2013 and 2014), California’s carbon emissions declined by an amount equivalent to taking over 1 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year.

California is ahead of schedule in meeting its 2020 goal. Emissions have been below required levels in every year we have data for. Regulators expect that in 2020 California will exceed its own requirements by an amount that is equivalent to taking 3.3 coal burning power plants off-line for one year.

California’s economy is growing.

Historically economic growth has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in emissions, but California is charting a different course. The state’s Gross State Product has increased steadily since the recession as emissions have continued to fall, as shown in this figure:

In the first two and a half years of California’s groundbreaking carbon market, the state added over 900,000 jobs, a growth rate that eclipsed the national rate.

Carbon markets are going global.

The impressive outcomes from the first decade of California’s AB 32 implementation have attracted numerous partners. States, provinces, cities and countries are taking note and action.

At the Paris negotiations at the end of 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown showcased a “Memorandum of Understanding,” bringing together states and regions committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, or to less than 2 metric tons per capita by 2050. Over 100 states, provinces, and cities, representing one quarter of the world economy, signed on the agreement.

In addition, California is partnering directly with several Canadian provinces to implement joint cap-and-trade programs. It has also established an agreement to share information and work with China and Mexico on their carbon pricing efforts.

2030 target is ambitious but achievable.

Estimates suggest that after on-the-books polices are implemented, California will still have to find a way to reduce pollution another 17-29 percent to meet the 2030 target. The Air Resources Board has proposed relying on a ratcheting up of existing polices and a reliance on the existing cap-and-trade program to ensure the 2030 target is met.  Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories shows that meeting the 2030 target is possible with a ratcheting up of existing polices

The world will be watching whether California can repeat its gold medal performance under these new targets, and all indicators seem to point in the state’s favor.

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California carbon market's August auction results see slight rebound, but show need for post-2020 climate action

The results released today from California and Quebec’s latest cap-and-trade auction show a slight rebound in demand from results seen in May, but still demonstrate the need for a continued commitment on ambitious climate action beyond 2020. The results were released minutes after members of the California Assembly voted on ambitious 2030 targets; the final legislative votes are expected tomorrow.

The August 16 auction offered more than 86 million current vintage allowances (available for 2016 or later compliance) and sold just over 30 million. Approximately 10 million future allowances were offered that will not be available for use until 2019 or later; 769,000 of those allowances were sold.

These auction results represent a slight increase in demand from the May auction, where approximately 10% of the current and future vintage allowances that were offered sold. More allowances were also offered at this auction since allowances consigned by utility participants that were not sold in May were offered again at this auction.  The number of allowances offered for sale by utilities meant that the only state controlled allowances that sold were a small number of future vintage allowances.

California state controlled allowances that were not sold in August will not be offered again until two auctions clear above the floor price, representing a temporary tightening of the cap and a way for the program to self-adjust to temporary decreases in demand.

What changed and what is the same since the May auction

After May’s auction we pointed to several major factors that contributed to low demand: secondary market allowances were available for purchase below the floor price; regulated emissions have been below the cap allowing businesses to take a wait-and-see approach to purchasing allowances in advance of a pending appeal challenging the cap-and-trade auctions in the court of appeal; and need for increased certainty about the post-2020 cap-and-trade program.

Here’s what affected the August auction results:

  1. Secondary market prices have increased to right around the price of the current auction floor. This is likely the main factor contributing to the August auction’s slightly higher sales.
  2. There have been no further developments on the litigation as parties wait for the court to announce an oral argument schedule.
  3. There has been some movement on California’s effort to provide post-2020 certainty but not definitive action. In July, California's Air Resources Board released proposed amendments to set rules and a cap-and-trade carbon budget in-line with achieving a 40 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2030. Final agency action is not expected until spring of 2017. The California Legislature is also considering a package of bills that would cement the 2030 target, currently in executive order, into statute. Assembly members voted today on climate targets and we will see whether legislative members will fulfill the will of over two-thirds of the California electorate by passing these targets.

California’s package of climate programs, including cap and trade, must first be evaluated based on whether emissions are going down – and the latest data from ARB in June showed that emissions do continue to decline. Selling out an auction and raising a set amount of revenue does not equate to overall success for the cap and trade program.

That said, once climate proceeds are in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), spending them wisely to reduce emissions and benefit communities, especially disadvantaged communities, is a metric of program success. To date, about 1.4 billion dollars have been languishing in the GGRF, not creating benefits, and resulting in consequences for real Californians.

In addition to passing climate targets, Legislators should continue to act on proposals like the one Pro Tem Kevin de Leon has put forward to spend existing climate dollars this session.

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Six benefits of California setting a 2030 climate pollution reduction target

Setting a 2030 greenhouse gas target for California could benefit the state’s economy; environment; and future of California’s global climate leadership. Image credit: Flickr/ Jeff Turner

It’s summer recess for the California Legislature which means we have some time to reflect before the race to the end of the legislative session on August 31. A big question is whether the Legislature will pass a climate bill package that would cement ambitious 2030 carbon reduction targets into statute. With the climate spotlight shining brightly on Sacramento – as usual – it’s worth considering why legislative action and leadership is so critical now.

Here are six ways setting a 2030 greenhouse gas target for California could benefit the state’s economy; environment; and future of California’s global climate leadership, especially the groundbreaking cap-and-trade market we forged three years ago with Quebec.

  1. Cap-and-trade allowance values will more accurately reflect the long-term cost of hitting emissions reductions targets – This is the classic impact that we consider. A 2030 target means that a carbon allowance sold in 2017, for example, will be a valuable asset not just through 2020 but through 2030 as well. This could translate into higher allowance prices, but if it doesn’t, there could be good news reasons for that too, such as the market anticipating a low cost of reducing emissions.
  1. Regulated polluters will value emission reduction opportunities more highly, potentially leading to lower direct emissions – This relates back to the first point. Imagine that a business needs to buy a new boiler that they expect to last 20 years. They have the option to pay more now for a more efficient boiler or pay less now for a less efficient boiler. They are more likely to invest in the more efficient boiler if they know there will be a price on carbon catalyzing ambitious reductions for at least 15 more years rather than just five more years.
  1. Allowance banking could increase, creating more incentives for faster emission reductions – This creates an important, but more subtle, environmental benefit. If carbon prices are expected to increase in the future as the cap gets tighter, regulated and non-regulated participants alike will have an incentive to “bank” allowances for future use. (Note that an important California design feature allows a “current vintage allowance”, say 2016, to be used for emissions that occur in 2016 or in any future year.) This banking is equivalent to a reduction that occurs earlier than expected and provides a net benefit to the atmosphere. The concept of banking promotes innovative solutions that cut pollution more quickly, and makes the overall program more flexible for California companies.
  1. Demand for allowances could increase – If banking increases, the uptick in demand for allowances may mean that all or most allowances offered at the quarterly auctions sell out, even if emissions remain below the cap through 2020. Out-performing the 2020 cap would be a great outcome, meaning that the long-term price signal is likely incentivizing emissions reductions (as in the boiler example above) or that complementary measures (like the Renewable Portfolio Standard) are succeeding.
  1. Offsets developers will have a stronger incentive to reduce emissions where possible and bring projects to market – Offsets provide an opportunity for all sectors of the economy, like the agricultural sector, to be rewarded for high-quality, innovative emissions reductions. Because robust actions that cut pollution take time and investment, a longer-term commitment by the state is essential. This means that, for example, a rice farmer would be much more likely to transform their growing practices to cut methane emissions if those actions reaped a payoff for 15 instead of just five years.
  1. Communities, the California work force, and the economy will continue to benefit from Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GRRF) investments – The cap-and-trade program is first and foremost about reducing emissions not raising revenue. While the program’s purpose isn’t to maximize revenue, auctioning is an integral part of California’s well-functioning system and the undeniable benefits of the investments through the GGRF, especially for disadvantaged communities, are an important aspect of program success now and beyond 2020. California’s investments so far have furthered and enhanced the purposes of AB 32 which emphasize reducing carbon pollution in a way that maximizes benefits to the economy and environment, promotes social equity, and transforms the state into a low carbon economy. By sticking to these principles, California is creating benefits that far outweigh the initial investments. And these benefits need to continue!

A process not an event

Setting a 2030 target has been a gradual process in California. And the market may already be operating with some expectation that the cap-and-trade program will continue beyond 2020.

The market has received increasingly specific indications since 2014 that ambitious reductions will continue beyond 2020. For example, before AB 32 was ever passed, Governor Schwarzenegger signed an executive order calling for 1990 levels of emissions by 2020 and an 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050. In 2014, the Office of Planning and Research and the Air Resources Board (ARB) started calling for an ambitious mid-term 2030 target, foreshadowing Governor Brown’s 2015 executive order setting that target at 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Since then, ARB has reopened the Scoping Plan process to meet that 2030 target and begun the regulatory process to amend the cap-and-trade program to extend it to 2030.

With a decade of world-leading, successful climate action behind it, California is on the verge of another momentous step forward. The market will gain even more certainty, and California communities and the economy will score a huge win if the Legislature does the right thing and passes a climate package this year that places a 2030 target in statute.

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