Pulitzers await the enterprising journalist who digs into the RGGI efficiency story
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first legally binding cap-and-trade system in the hemisphere, kicked off yesterday with the world’s largest carbon credit auction. The program immediately failed.
I don’t know anything about the results of the auction, which won’t be made public until Monday, but I do know that whatever happened, RGGI is a great big failure. I know this because journalists prepared its obituary weeks ago.
The New York Times recently explained that RGGI is a failure because the carbon price is too low, “undermining a concept that is being watched carefully by the rest of the country.” The very same article helpfully explained that RGGI might also fail because the carbon price is too high. “If consumer costs rise … it could tarnish the cap-and-trade concept.” Yes: tarnished and undermined.
The Wall Street Journal also warned not to expect anything from RGGI, because the carbon price will be too low to stimulate the development of either of the two known technologies that can supplant coal: nuclear power or … coal. Clean coal, that is.
In the meantime, the rest of us are waiting to see how the program actually comes off. It’s true, the starting carbon price is expected to be low, possibly around $4 per ton of CO2 emissions, which is above the price floor of $1.86 per ton, but significantly below carbon prices in Europe. The low starting price is partly by design — regulators sensibly want to see how the market functions before ratcheting down the cap — but is also due to an unexpected drop in greenhouse gas emissions that has resulted in an overallocation of allowances.
Still, though, is $4 really too low to have any effect? If any journalist is reading, I have a story idea. The New England states that are participating in today’s RGGI auction also recently set up a less-heralded but no-less-intriguing auction on the electricity supply side. The program is called the Forward Capacity Market, and one important thing it does is level the playing field between electricity suppliers and energy efficiency programs.
Four dollars per ton is certainly not enough money to wave clean coal into existence, but it could put a helpful thumb on the scales for energy efficiency. Are RGGI and FCM expected to interact? If so, what are the implications for the U.S. as a whole? As we stare down a recession, might such linkages allow us to pursue economic and environmental objectives simultaneously?
Perhaps there’s nothing here, but that obit’s got to be getting a little bit boring to write. How about it?