California Carbon Allowances Sold Out at $10.09 in Auction

Carbon allowances for the start of California’s program to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, the largest U.S. system of the kind, sold out last week at $10.09 a metric ton, lower than the range analysts forecast.

The state Air Resources Board sold all 23.1 million carbon permits offered at a Nov. 14 auction for the first compliance period of the program starting Jan. 1, the agency’s website showed today. The permits, each of which allows the release of one metric ton of carbon, were estimated to clear between $12 and $15 a ton in the first auction, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Carbon futures fell to $12.15 a ton after the California Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s authority to sell permits. The program covers 85 percent of emissions in an economy valued at $1.74 trillion last year. The state is giving away about 90 percent of permits at the onset and selling the rest in what will be the second-biggest carbon market, after the European Union program.

The auction clearing price “echoes the sentiments expressed by some market participants regarding the uncertainties and the sheer volume of allowances being auctioned in this round,” Samantha Unger Katz, managing director of BGC Environmental Brokerage Services in New York, said by e-mail.

Second Phase

Futures contracts based on carbon permits for 2013 were trading at $11.60 a metric ton on the Atlanta-based IntercontinentalExchange Inc. (ICE) at 4:26 p.m. New York time, down from $12.05 on Nov. 16, Lenny Hochschild, head of global carbon trading for broker Evolution Markets in White Plains, New York, said. No trades were done this morning before the release of the auction results, he said.

The state sold 5.58 million out of the 39.5 million allowances it put up for auction to be used in the second phase of the program, beginning in 2015. The advance permits cleared at $10 each, the lowest price allowed by the program, known as the “floor” price.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that some of the advance allowances would go unsold as fuel distributors waited to begin stockpiling credits.

Capping Carbon

Companies bid for more than three times the number of allowances up for sale to be used in the first compliance period, the state air board said.

“That’s around 70 million allowances bid, so that’s pretty healthy,” Anthony D’Agostino, director of emissions markets at RBC Capital Markets, said by telephone. “On the flip side, there were probably a lot of people who said, ‘Let’s stick some bids in at $10,’ so you have to weigh that a little. If there was no price floor, I think it would have been less.”

The California Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit Nov. 13 against the auction, calling it “an unconstitutional fee.” The group argued in the suit that the air board lacks authority to sell carbon allowances, saying it’s paramount to an invalid tax costing taxpayers $70 billion.

California plans to cap carbon emissions beginning next year from power generators, oil refineries and other industrial plants. The limit will decline each year to achieve a 15 percent reduction in emissions by 2020. Companies must surrender carbon permits to cover their emissions over three phases of the program. Those that discharge less than their cap can sell their spare allowances.

Auction Results

Mary Nichols, chairman of the air resources board, said the agency was “delighted” by the results of the Nov. 14 auction.

“We’re just pleased that the allowances sold out and that they sold out at a good price,” Nichols said. “That’s a sign that we’ve got a vibrant and successful market here.”

More than 70 companies qualified to bid in Nov. 14 auction, with BP Plc (BP/), Chevron Corp. (CVX), Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), Tesoro Corp. (TSO) and Valero Energy Corp. (VLO) among the refiners who registered to participate. The qualified power utilities included Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison.

Morgan Stanley (MS), Noble Corp. (NE), Royal Bank of Canada and Vitol Inc. also qualified to bid.

The auction was conducted electronically and overseen by a half-dozen agency staff members in a room without windows. The agency took five days to review the auction for manipulation before certifying results.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lynn Doan in San Francisco at ldoan6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net

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