Outlook for 2014 California Cap-and-Trade: Politics Take the Center Stage

After a year of incremental regulatory action, 2014 promises to be a year ripe in political developments for California’s cap-and-trade program and climate policy in general. From Sacramento to Washington, DC, we examine key expected developments for the New Year and their potential impact on the California carbon market. You can also download our nifty California Carbon Calendar 2014.

Political Outlook

Complementary policies remain high on the political agenda on both sides on the aisle, and have the most direct potential impact on market balance and prices.

Low Carbon Fuel Standards and Fuels under the Cap

We expect the oil industry will continue its push to delay or amend the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). In court, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Goldstene case, which caused a temporary stay of the LCFS program earlier this year, has been remanded to District Court after the Court of Appeal judged the program did not discriminate. The revised Court decision is expected in 2014. Any delay or significant change to the program’s compliance schedule would lead to higher emissions in California, and potentially drive prices up on the market.

We also expect the oil industry to continue arguing in the Legislature for free allocation and/or a delay in the inclusion of the fuels in the program. The latter seems less likely, as it would appear as a significant setback for California climate policy, and therefore is unlikely to garner enough support either in the legislative or in the executive branch. Allocation to fuels, on the other hand, is sure to be high on the agenda, and if left to ARB will likely involve fewer free allowances than if legislators have a say.

Renewable Portfolio Standard, Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Investments

As utilities are well on track to meeting their 33 percent renewable procurement target for 2020, the Legislature started in 2013 a discussion on going above and beyond the 2020 target and setting a more ambitious target – 51 percent – for 2030. We expect similar legislation to resurface in 2014, and the primary holdup against passage is likely to be technical rather than political, as utilities are concerned about ensuring grid stability and reliability with such a high level of renewable integration. A more ambitious RPS would lower emissions in California in 2020 and beyond, and would contribute to keeping prices low in the carbon market.

Revenues from Prop 39 and its implementing legislation have started flowing, with $106 million going to California public schools in 2013. The revenue stream is expected to increase, with up to $500 million going to energy efficiency and clean energy investments yearly over the next five years.

Prop 39 revenues come in addition to the auction proceeds, which must be invested in emission reductions as well. The fate of the fund is in the Governor’s hands, but assuming funds will be directed towards their intended purpose, both investments will contribute to curbing emissions and prices. (Read our recent analysis on budget politics.)

Offsets

The conversation on offsets was largely dominated by SB 605 in 2013, a bill that proposed to restrict offsets to projects in California. We expect similar legislation to be introduced again in 2014, which would carry a risk of driving prices high by creating sudden scarcity in offset supply. Criticisms and questioning of protocols for mine methane and rice cultivation also meant neither protocol got approved in 2013.

We expect 2014 will see a continuation of ARB’s work on new protocols, with mine methane most likely to make it in the regulatory amendment package in the spring. We don’t anticipate any major breakthrough on REDD, in spite of the excellent guidelines laid out by the REDD working group in July 2013. Offsets in general and REDD in particular remain a contentious topic for a number of environmental organizations, and we expect continued push back from these organizations, and the same commitment to extreme caution from ARB.

Post-2020 Policies and Emission Reduction Target

The single most important development for the short and long-term health of the carbon market is the setting of a clear target and policy framework post-2020. ARB has clearly indicated in the October 2013 draft Scoping Plan Update that cap-and-trade would continue past 2020, but stopped short of setting a target for 2030 and beyond. We expect 2014 will see the 2030 target rise on the political agenda – Sen. Fran Pavley, Chair of the CA Senate Select Committee on Climate Change & AB32 Implementation, indicated early December that she would consider sponsoring legislation to establish long term reduction targets for the state.

Climate policy could well become a key issue in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign. Gov. Jerry Brown is said to prepare an announcement as part of his platform for his (likely) re-election campaign. Climate change is high on the agenda for California voters, with 65 percent supporting AB32 goals and policies and saying the government should do more. Gov. Brown sports high approval ratings, 49 percent of likely voters as of December 2013, down from 54 percent in July, and has made climate and clean energy a priority for his administration. Yet his re-election could be challenged, especially in the context of California’s new Top 2 primary system. The 2014 gubernatorial election could play a significant role in bolstering or reshaping California climate policy, which could impact the carbon market as well.

Federal & Global Climate Policy

2014 is also an election year at the federal level, but unless Republicans capture the majority in the Senate, we don’t expect a significant change of course in either direction, as the gridlock in Congress will continue to leave the initiative to the President. The Environmental Policy Agency (EPA) is chugging along on its GHG regulations under the Clean Air Act, which is generally supportive of and compatible with existing state programs (read our analysis on this topic)

It is probably fair to say that the global climate community is more interested in California than the other way round, but generally still worth mentioning that the expectations for the 2014 round of global negotiations are nil, as all eyes are on the December 2015 Paris Conference for a possible international agreement of a sort towards global carbon reductions.

Carbon Market Outlook

Regulatory Changes

Make no mistake – there are still quite a few loose ends to tie up on the regulatory front that will keep market regulators and emitters alike busy through the year.

  • As of January 1st, the linkage with Quebec will become effective, meaning that allowances and offsets issued by the Quebec government will gain full currency in the California market. The first joint auction should take place in May 2014 (not February), according to the Quebec government.
  • ARB staff needs to finalize the regulatory amendments discussed at length through 2013, which contain a variety of provisions addressing industry allocation and product benchmarking, market oversight and information disclosure, conflict of interest rules, cost containment, coal mine methane protocol, and more. Final amendments are expected in the spring.
  • 2014 will see the first partial annual compliance on November 1st, 2014. For the first time, emitters will have to surrender 30 percent of their 2013 emissions to ARB for permanent retirement. This should boost volumes in the secondary market ahead of the surrender deadline, and will be a good opportunity to check whether ARB has ironed all the kinks in terms of retirement order.
  • Who says compliance says emissions true up – ARB will be releasing historical verified emissions for 2013 in probably in the fall 2014, which will likely confirm that the market has indeed started with an excess of allowances compared to emissions.

None of these is expected to have a noticeable price impact except maybe for the CMM offset protocol, but their successful completion is integral to the proper functioning of the market and must be checked off the list.

Market Trends

We expect 2014 will see higher traded volume on the secondary market than in 2013, especially ahead of the partial compliance deadline in the fall 2014. As the second compliance period and its substantially larger cap draw near, we also anticipate oil companies will start buying larger volumes at auctions and over-the-counter. While fundamentals do not point towards a price increase, the sheer size of potential demand from fuel distributors compared to current size of the market could drive up prices a bit towards the end of the year.

We expect the primary market to continue to perform well, and all current and future allowances offered for sale at auctions to be purchased, mainly by compliance entities – in line with auction results so far.

For offsets, as ARB continues to issue compliance-grade offsets, and the market explores the many variants offered by the IETA-sponsored California Emission Trading Master Agreement (CETMA), we expect to see a little more activity in the secondary offset market. But we don’t anticipate a large increase in liquidity as offset contracts will remain, by design, not fungible.

Conclusion

2014 will bring plenty of opportunities for political changes, and derived policy changes, although in California the popular support for climate policy is such that change is likely to mean strengthening and deepening of current policies.

We also anticipate 2014 will see growing emphasis on the issue of climate adaptation. California is in the process of updating its state climate adaptation plan, and since the world is generally failing to address GHG emissions and global climate change, we anticipate climate adaptation will increasingly get people’s attention as the impacts of the changing climate are being felt in California and beyond.

Pin it to your desk! Download Four Twenty Seven’s California Carbon Calendar 2014