This is a post on an implication of two Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) reports: the Report on the Secondary Market for RGGI CO2 Allowances – Q4’17 (Secondary Market Report) and the Market Monitor Report for Auction 39 (Market Monitor Report). It is becoming clear that timing for one unique aspect of the RGGI allowance market – the need for compliance entities to go to the open market to purchase allowances from non-compliance entities – is getting closer.
This is another in a series of posts on RGGI that discusses how RGGI has fared so far (see the RGGI posts page). I have been involved in the RGGI program process since its inception. Before retirement from a non-regulated generating company, I was actively analyzing air quality regulations that could affect company operations and was responsible for the emissions data used for compliance. As a result, I have a niche understanding of the information necessary to critique RGGI. I am motivated to prepare these posts because most reports about RGGI are advocacy pieces with very few critiques. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
There is a difference in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) cap and auction program relative to a cap and trade program that allocates all allowances to affected sources or compliance entities. In particular, when the allowances are allocated directly to affected sources in a traditional cap and trade program the allowance bank is either allowances held by affected sources for compliance obligations or those deemed surplus by compliance entities because of investments in controls to meet their compliance obligations under the cap. The success of cap and trade programs to date is related to the fact that this enables the market to develop a least cost control strategy.
In the RGGI program allowances are purchased for compliance obligations or as an investment so there are allowances that have not been deemed surplus in the bank. This makes a difference to the allowance bank because a significant fraction of the allowances are owned by entities without a compliance obligation. I have previously noted that at some point the regulated sources are going to have to rely on non-compliance entities for allowances necessary for compliance (as the cap tightens over time) and it is not clear how the market will react.
RGGI provides reports that describe the status of the market but does not provide the information to easily estimate the number of compliance entity allowances in the allowance bank because there is no status report that trues up emissions, allowance surrenders and allowances. This analysis calculates the size of the compliance entity allowance bank on March 16, 2018 after allowances matching emissions from the third compliance period are surrendered, allowances from the first auction in the fourth compliance period are added, and the Market Monitor Report for Auction 39 lists the share of allowances owned by compliance entities. I also estimate what the compliance entity allowance bank will be at the end of the fourth compliance period in 2020, absent the addition of Virginia and New Jersey who appear committed to join RGGI.
RGGI’s Secondary Market Reports report on allowance status but do not include emissions status. According to the Market Monitor Secondary Market Report for Quarter 4 2017 updated on 2/22/18, at the end of the fourth quarter of 2017:
- There were 255 million CO2 allowances in circulation.
- Compliance-oriented entities held approximately 156 million of the allowances in circulation (61 percent).
- Approximately 175 million of the allowances in circulation (69 percent) are believed to be held for compliance purposes.
- According to Secondary Market Report there were 255 million allowances in circulation on 12/31/2017. That value is the sum of the allowances allocated in the first and second control periods less the allowances surrendered in those control periods and allowances allocated in the third control period less the allowances surrendered in 2015 and 2016 (50% of the emissions). This report could not include the number of allowances that had to be surrendered for the entire third compliance period because the 2017 emissions were not finalized until the end of January 2018.
- This report does not account for the surrender of allowances at the end of the third compliance period and without that information it is not possible to calculate the number of compliance entity allowances.
RGGI lists the allowance allocations by control period but for some reason does not summarize the totals but that information is necessary to generate the necessary numbers. I downloaded the allowance allocations for each compliance period from the RGGI website to Table 1 RGGI allowance allocation 2009 – 2017 data extracted from individual period spreadsheets. (Note that I did not include all the footnotes and endnotes in Table 1.) RGGI emissions data are available on the RGGI CO2 Allowance Tracking System. I downloaded the control period emissions and summed the facility totals by compliance period to generate Table 2 RGGI Control Period CO2 Emissions.
Table 3 Compliance Period Allowance Allocations and Compliance Period Emissions combines all these data. In order to check my numbers I included the annual 2015, 2016 and 2017 columns with the annual emissions allocations, emissions and 50% of the emissions surrender values to calculate the number of allowances in circulation on 12/31/2017. I get 249 million allowances in circulation compared to the Secondary Market Report value of 255 million. Because that difference does not change my findings I did not try to reconcile the reason. The compliance period emissions and allowance allocations can also be used to estimate the size of the allowance bank. I estimate that there were 85,146,494 allowances in the allowance bank after allowances for the third compliance period emissions were surrendered.
The Market Monitor Report for Auction 39 dated March 16, 2018 notes that: After settlement of allowances sold in Auction 39:
- Thirty-five percent of the allowances in circulation will be held by Compliance-Oriented Entities.
- Forty-five percent of the allowances in circulation are believed to be held for compliance purposes. The number of allowances that are believed to be held for compliance purposes includes 100 percent of the allowances held by Compliance-Oriented Entities and a portion of allowances held by Investors with Compliance Obligations.
In order to get the current number of compliance purpose allowances we have to use that information and the 2018 allocation data as shown in Table 4 2018 CO2 Allowance Allocation. The number of allowances in circulation equals the allowance bank calculated above (85,146,494) and the number of allowances sold in Auction 39 (13,553,767). The current number of compliance purpose allowances is 45% of the 98,770,261 total or 44,415,118.
The ultimate reason for this analysis was because I wondered when compliance entities would have to start relying on the non-compliance share to get enough allowances to meet compliance obligations. In order to project when that will happen we have to guess at how many allowances will be purchased by compliance entities in the upcoming auctions and what future emissions will be like. Table 5 Current and Projected Allowance Status lists the current status of the number of compliance entity allowances in the top section. In the middle section, Projected End of 2018, I assumed that emissions in 2018 would be the same as 2017 but looked at three scenarios for compliance entities to purchase allowances: the % purchased in the first quarter of 2018 and the historical high and low rates. In all three scenarios compliance entities will not run out in 2018. However, in the bottom section I show that if there is a 5% reduction from 2017 CO2 emissions annually for the fourth compliance period then by the end of 2020 the compliance entity share will be negative unless compliance entities purchase at least 80% of the allowances.
Although there is an inconsistency between my calculation methodology and the RGGI reported total allowance bank at the end of 2017, these numbers show that the compliance entity share of allowances is getting smaller. This is truly unprecedented in any cap and trade allowance program so we do not know how the market will react.
If RGGI were static then this analysis shows that this issue could come to a head before the end of the current compliance period in 2020. However, both Virginia and New Jersey have indicated that they want to join the program. I have no idea how their allowances will be allocated relative to their emissions so cannot estimate any effect on this issue.
In addition to the changing relative share of compliance entity allowances the overall market is getting tighter relative to emissions and allowances available. Theory says that in a tight market the price goes up and I personally cannot imagine that not happening. This is especially troubling because the “easy” CO2 reductions in RGGI have already been implemented.
There are two potential problems looming. Advocates for RGGI claim that the RGGI allowance price costs to the consumer are offset by investments made by the RGGI states. However, when compliance entities have to purchase allowances from non-compliance entities the cost difference between the price that the non-compliance entities relative to the price they sell to the compliance entities is a cost that consumers have to bear. Even though there were investments using the original non-compliance entity price there are no offsetting investments for the cost differential. According to this analysis there are 54 million non-compliance entity allowances. If the market reacts strongly to the overall shortage and the price goes up, the resulting added burden to the consumer could be significant.
The other problem is that for CO2 compliance, power plants have limited options. For the most part fuel switching is the most effective. Eventually if you have the allowances you can run and if you don’t have them you either don’t run or assume that you can get the allowances on the market to cover your obligations. I have been involved in cap and trade compliance programs since 1993 and I can safely say that environmental staff in electric generating companies are universally opposed to assuming that allowances will be available. As important as a potential compliance problem is the fact that the power plant cannot estimate its cost unless it knows how much it paid for allowance obligation. That is impossible unless you have the allowances in hand. I worry that the logistics of getting allowances from the non-compliance entities for compliance needs could lead to problems in this regard.