OLYMPIA — Washington’s first cap-and-trade auction was more lucrative for government accounts than pre-auction projections by the Department of Ecology.
Some 6.18 million carbon allowances sold for $48.50 each, Ecology announced Tuesday, one week after the auction. Ecology estimated in January allowances would sell for about $32.
Ecology will hold three more auctions this year. If allowances stay at the current price, the auctions will take in nearly three times as much money this year than Ecology predicted in 2021. Lawmakers that year adopted cap-and-trade to reduce greenhouse gases and finance carbon-reduction programs.
“This is truly historic for Washington and for the global movement toward a low-carbon future,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.
“This cap-and-invest system is crucial to our approach to addressing climate change, and we are very encouraged to see this program starting off so well,” he said.
Venture capitalists, commodity traders and private equity investors joined oil and natural gas companies, utilities and others in bidding for allowances.
Energy generators and suppliers must acquire one allowance for every ton of carbon they emit. The state will collect additional taxes as investors resell allowances on an unregulated market.
Cap-and-trade is expected to increase energy prices. A high price at the first auction bodes ill for consumers and the state’s economy, according to the Western States Petroleum Association.
“While the state is focused on the funds raised, today is not a day to celebrate and should be a warning for the viability of the program moving forward,” petroleum association President and CEO Catherine Reheis-Boyd said in a statement.
The settlement price was close to the $51.90 that would have triggered a reserve auction open to only entities that must acquire allowances. Ecology holds allowances in reserve to contain the cost of complying with cap-and-trade and restrain energy price hikes.
“That the final cost of allowances were so close to the reserve price is a troubling result consistent with the warnings outside experts have been providing the state on the current cap-and-trade design,” Reheis-Boyd said.
A consultant hired by Ecology last year forecast allowances would initially sell for $41, based on the value of the dollar in 2021. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the inflation-adjusted figure would be $46.89.
Ecology in 2021 estimated allowances initially would sell for $22.78 and that the four auctions would take in $441.2 million during the calendar year 2023. The department did not project allowance prices topping $45 until 2032.
“That’s a stunner. Bureaucrats missed the mark by a mile,” said the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, Drew MacEwen of Shelton.
“No matter how many times advocates promise, ‘the big oil companies will eat it,’ those of us who live in the real world know most of these additional costs will be passed on to the people, one way or another,” he said.
Ecology plans to release a report March 28 detailing how much the Feb. 28 auction raised. Multiplying the number of allowances sold times $48.50 equals nearly $300 million.
Northwest Gas Association executive director Dan Kirschner said it’s too early to know how the first auction will impact natural gas prices, but said he anticipates ratepayers will soon see cap-and-trade costs in their bills.
“I expect to hear back from my members in the next week as they crunch their numbers,” he said.
Ecology released the names of 56 entities that registered for the auction. The department will not announce which ones submitted bids or obtained allowances.
The roster of bidders included companies with oil refineries in Washington, several public utility districts, investor-owned utilities, pipeline companies and large fuel suppliers.
The roster also listed investment companies such as Morgan Stanley Capital Group and J. Aron & Co. LLC, a subsidiary of The Goldman Sachs Group.
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