June 9, 2013 11:52 pm

Worry over scarcer credits propels US carbon market RGGI

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

A pioneer US carbon market is climbing after an intervention meant to grapple with a surplus of credits that has also dogged Europe’s emissions trading system.

Last week’s quarterly auction by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, operated by nine northeast states, was twice oversubscribed. The clearing price of $3.21 per short tonne was the highest in four years.

Companies on a list of potential bidders included energy traders EDF Trading, Koch, Mercuria and Vitol as well as Morgan Stanley, the Wall Street bank.

The programme began in 2009 as a means to reduce emissions in states including Massachusetts, Maryland and New York. Power plants of 25 megawatts or larger must purchase a permit for each short tonne of carbon dioxide produced.

But prices plunged as financial crisis damped electricity demand and a shale drilling boom encouraged generators to burn natural gas instead of higher-carbon coal. In February, the states cut the cap on annual emissions by 45 per cent to 91m short tonnes from next year, with 2.5 annual reductions afterward through 2020.

Paul Tesoriero, director of environmental markets at Evolution Markets, a New York broker, said anticipation of scarcer credits had lifted prices. “It has everything to do with the rule change,” he said.

The policy shift boosted futures markets pegged to credits. RGGI volume at the ICE Futures US exchange more than quadrupled on the year to 4,285 contracts in May.

Still, a stockpile of about 100m credits has been banked by traders. This will weigh on prices for years to come, Mr Tesoriero said.

In the European Union’s eight-year-old emissions trading system, the largest carbon market in the world, benchmark prices have collapsed to less than €4 a metric tonne, down from more than €30 five years ago, as the weak EU economy exacerbates a glut in the supply of credits.

A surplus of about 2bn permits, or roughly a year’s worth of emissions, has built up in the scheme. That is because of weak EU economic conditions – which reduce industrial activity, and therefore demand for permits – and because the EU gave away too many permits for free when the scheme started.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has been trying to approve a plan that would temporarily take 900m tonnes of permits out of the market, and put them back in later when it was hoped demand might be stronger.

The measure, known as “backloading”, was rejected by the European Parliament by 334-315 votes in April after business group lobbyists said it would erode EU competitiveness, sending prices down to less than €3.

Prices have recovered slightly since then as the parliament prepares for another vote on July 2.

“There is some optimism in the market that it could make it through parliament this time, which is definitely pushing prices up,” said carbon analyst Marcus Ferdinand of Thomson Reuters Point Carbon.

Even if the backloading plan does pass, however, many analysts believe it will only push prices up by around €2 from what they would have been otherwise.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

NEWS BY EMAIL

Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in

SHARE THIS QUOTE