100% Auction For CO2 Allowances Takes A Hit

As the New York Times reported on Friday, New York Governor David Paterson may increase the number of carbon allowances that New York gives to power plants for free, creating a significant policy departure from New York’s earlier approach to RGGI.   New York, together with seven other RGGI states, had earlier committed to auction nearly 100% of its allowances.  As such, New York gave away only a small portion of its allowances this year (1.5 million out of 62 million) through a program designed to lessen the impact of RGGI on the price of electricity. Paterson’s proposed adjustment would increase that number four-fold, giving away 6 million allowances to regulated power plants, at an estimated value of $21.9 million per year.  That money could have otherwise been used by the state to fund energy efficiency programs.  

If New York were to change its allocation structure, the state would have to reopen its regulations, and any change would require notice and public comment.  As a result, any changes would not impact the next auction, scheduled for March 18th, or, apparently, the following two in June and September.  Although New York controls 31% of the allowances in the RGGI program, this potential shift would not affect overall carbon emissions from power plants.  Both the amount of allowances allocated to New York and the total number of allowances in the RGGI program are capped. 

Regardless of the number of allowances now to be allocated, the change is potentially politically significant. The statement from the Governor’s office is framed in neutral language — "we have an obligation to monitor how a program is working and advance any needed changes to make the program more effective."  Nonetheless, one wonders whether the lawsuit filed last month by Indeck against New York, alleging that the state agencies did not have the authority from the New York legislature to implement the program, played any part in the Governor’s decision.  That lawsuit and this potential change in New York’s allocation structure are both underpinned by the idea that New York’s implementation of RGGI adversely affects against electric generators that are bound by long-term fixed-price contracts, and cannot pass the added price of allowances on to consumers. 

New York’s shift might also make it more difficult for the other RGGI states to stick with their 100% auction, in face of pressure from industry groups to increase allocation, though, as ClimateWire reports, some state leaders have discounted the potential impact. It also remains to be seen what effect this will have on the national debate.  As we noted last week, the debate over how a cap-and-trade or carbon tax would operate is beginning to heat up.  Since RGGI is the nation’s first CO2 cap-and-trade system to be implemented, experiences with RGGI are likely to have a significant impact on national legislation.

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