Demand for allowances in the nation's only cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions fell sharply last week. At the 12th Quarterly Auction of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), held on June 8th, 70% of the current compliance period allowances went unsold. As the RGGI Market Monitor Report highlights, with only 25 bidders participating in the auction of the 2009-2011 compliance period allowances, only 30% of the 42 million allowances offered for sale by the 10-state group (including New Jersey) were actually purchased at the floor price of $1.89. Demand for future allowances, good for the 2012-2014 compliance period, fared only slightly better, with the 5 participants in that auction buying just over 50% of the 1.86 million allowances offered by the still-participating states (minus New Jersey, which supplied allowances for the 2009-2011 auction, but not the 2012-2014 auction) also at the floor price of $1.89.
This sharp drop in the sale of allowances at auction is surprising, particularly given that the last auction, held in March, sold out of allowances for the first time since Auction #8. The number of participants who qualified to bid at the March and June auctions did not differ much -- 49 and 47, respectively -- but the number of participants who actually submitted bids fell sharply, from 36 to 25. An even more significant difference is the number of allowances that each of these bidders bought. For instance, while the top two bidders in March bought over 10 million allowances each, the top bidders in June bought just 2.6 million and 1.9 million respectively.
As yesterday's ClimateWire highlighted, theories about the causes of this surprising drop abound. My favorite is that companies regulated by RGGI already have most of the allowances they will need to cover their emissions in the compliance period ending in December, and these unsold allowances are primarily due to the excess supply under the RGGI cap. Other theories cite to New Jersey's recent announcement that it would withdraw from the program by the end of the year as a sign to would-be-buyers that the program is threatened. But New Jersey's break with RGGI will not be as quick as initially reported. The official letter from New Jersey's Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection outlines that the state will continue to participate in the allowance auctions for calendar year 2011, as it did in the June auction last week, and that regulated power plants in New Jersey are not being relieved of their obligation to hold sufficient allowances to cover their emissions in the initial compliance period, which ends on December 31, 2011.