California climate program remains solid as transportation emissions fall

Bixby Bridge, California. Photo by Dave Lastovskiy on Unsplash

Today’s solid results from the latest Western Climate Initiative cap-and-trade auction demonstrate once again the resilience of the market. Yet this is not the only interesting news out of the California market this quarter as the state released the preliminary 2018 emissions inventory, which showed that transportation emissions fell for the first time since 2012.

First up, auction results:

  • All 67,435,661 current allowances sold, clearing at $17.00, $1.38 above the floor price of $15.62. This is $.16 lower than the August 2019 clearing price of $17.16.
  • All of the 9,038,000 future vintage allowances offered also sold at $16.80, $1.18 above the $15.62 floor price. These allowances are not available for use until 2022.
  • The auction raised approximately $739 million for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which California uses for activities that further decrease greenhouse gas emissions, improve local air quality, and support the state’s most vulnerable communities.
  • Quebec raised over approximately $245 million CAD (approximately $185 million USD) to fund their own climate priorities.

These results are generally consistent with the past several auctions, but there are a couple of points worth noting:

  1. The allowance clearing price was slightly lower in November than it was in August, perhaps because the market is continuing the normal correction that we saw in the August results after record-high prices in the May auction. At the same time, emissions are well below the cap again this year, which could be tempering prices slightly.
  2. The strong demand for both current and future allowances indicates that the WCI platform has a solid foundation and that companies might be preparing now for future compliance. It is especially notable that future allowances, which aren’t available for compliance for another three years, were all purchased. Enough companies clearly expect the market to still be strong in a few years.
  3. Pacific Gas & Electric may have participated in November’s auction after sitting out the previous three. It is listed as a “qualified bidder,” meaning it was eligible to participate, but which entities actually bid in an auction is confidential. If PG&E did purchase allowances at this auction, it was likely to ensure they can meet their 2018 annual compliance obligation. At all auctions PG&E has continued to consign their directly-allocated allowances on behalf of their ratepayers.

Transportation, oil and gas production emissions tick downward
The California Air Resources Board recently released preliminary 2018 emissions data. The exciting climate news from this report is that emissions from transportation fuels decreased for the first time since 2012. While it’s a modest start, .52%, it’s an early indication that perhaps California’s transportation emissions have peaked and are moving toward a downward trajectory. Transportation emissions continue to be the largest sector of the state’s emissions inventory, and Environmental Defense Fund will be watching carefully in future years to see if the 2018 preliminary data represents a trend of decreasing transportation emissions.

Another piece of good news for the climate is that emissions from oil and gas production decreased approximately 2.3%. This is the third consecutive year this sector has decreased emissions.

Emissions from the electricity sector increased minimally from 2017 to 2018, though that is largely due to a change in source categorization and a decrease in hydroelectricity caused by lower rainfall. Despite this slight bump, emissions from the electricity sector overall have decreased approximately 37% since 2012.

While the overall emissions reported under the state’s Mandatory Reporting Requirement increased ever-so-slightly (.05%) from 2017 to 2018, California is still well ahead of schedule to meet the 2020 emission reduction target of returning to 1990 levels and emissions remain below the cap. At the same time California outpaced total US per capita GDP growth in 2018, demonstrating that curbing climate pollution and growing the economy can go hand-in-hand.

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