New California carbon market a success, participants say

Ben Margot/APCalifornia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters will for the first time begin buying permits in a landmark “cap-and-trade” system meant to control emissions of heat-trapping gases and spur investment in clean technologies.

California has sold out of the first pollution permits issued  at an inaugural auction as part of a landmark offensive against greenhouse gases, regulators said Monday, adding that the sale went smoothly.

The effort to curtail carbon emissions involved the sale of 23.1 million permits — each allowing for the release of 1 ton of carbon — for $10.09 apiece, the California Air Resources Board said.

The permit sales last week opened the largest carbon marketplace in the nation and the second-biggest in the world after the European Union. The California air board will hold four such auctions a year.

“By putting a price on carbon, we know we are beginning the process of breaking our dependence on fossil fuels,” Mary Nichols, board chairwoman, said during a conference call with the media.

The board would not divulge specific figures on how many permits were bought by individual polluters covered under newly instituted caps on carbon emissions. The board does not comment on bidding activity in order to protect each polluter’s strategy regarding use of the carbon market, Nichols said.

However, a sampling of the more than 300 companies that are covered include utilities such as PG&E, petroleum refiners such as Phillips 66 and even food processing companies such as Saputo Cheese USA.

Blair Jones, a spokesman for PG&E, said the company is “satisfied with the process based on what we’ve observed.” He said he couldn’t comment on whether PG&E participated in the auction due to restrictions in the regulations on cap and trade.

The board said participation in the auction was robust, with three times more bids submitted than allowances available for sale.

Robert Day, a partner at Boston-based clean-tech investment firm Black Coral Capital, said the high number of bids showed that California’s carbon market is legitimate.

“As an investor, I take a lot of comfort that this was for real, was done right and will continue into the future,” Day said.

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