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|Saturday, November 01, 2008|
Ready or not, The carbon market is coming to Oregon. Expect big winners — and big losers.
BY BEN JACKLET
Few people in the world, much less in Oregon, can match Mark Trexler’s experience navigating the carbon market.
The Western Climate Initiative, a collaboration between seven states and four Canadian provinces, is establishing a regional cap-and-trade system for facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Businesses and utilities will receive allowances for their emissions based on historical data, with the allowances decreasing over time. To comply, they will have to become more energy efficient, purchase carbon credits from other businesses, or pay for offset programs to store carbon or decrease its flow into the atmosphere. Businesses that exceed their emission reduction quotas will be able to bank their carbon allowances, or trade them as if they were oil or wheat futures.
Given what has happened on Wall Street over the past year, embracing a market-based solution to the global warming problem may not seem like the most prudent approach. But many experts consider it the most effective plan, especially since a carbon tax would likely be a political non-starter. Besides, carbon markets have a track record, albeit with mixed results. A regulated carbon market has existed in Europe since 2005 (crashing spectacularly early, but recovering steadily from there), and a less ambitious version launched in the northeastern United States in September. After eight years of federal inaction on climate change policy, both presidential candidates support a national program, but resistance will be strong.
The first facilities to be capped in Oregon were identified in a preliminary — and hotly contested — list compiled by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). These 33 facilities emit the equivalent of a combined 12 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Multiply that by the going rate on the European carbon market of $35 per ton, and you get a $420 million liability. Small wonder that the Association of Oregon Industries, which represents 1,650 companies employing 200,000 workers, is sounding alarms about increased outsourcing, job losses and plant closures. The price of electricity is expected to increase by about 30% because of cap and trade.
“The downside is awful,” says John Ledger, AOI’s vice president for energy and environmental affairs. “A lot of the companies that you see on the list are manufacturing facilities that provide good-paying jobs. Businesses that can’t afford these new costs would be forced to cut jobs or outsource. And power rates would go up for everyone.”
Not surprisingly, several businesses that made the DEQ’s list have protested that the emission estimates are inaccurate. Less predictably, the complaints have been split between those who believe their numbers are too high and those who argue their numbers are too low. Why would anyone want higher pollution numbers? The reason is important: The higher the emission allowance, the easier it will be to meet, and the greater advantage the business will have within the carbon market to meet quotas and trade allowances. This could lead to windfall profits for some and a volatile market for everyone else. In Europe, too many pollution allowances were handed out early and the market crashed once it became clear that there was little if any value to the thin air being traded.
To avoid a similar scenario, DEQ will implement a more precise emissions monitoring process starting in 2009. The improved data will lay the foundation for a sprawling new program with many details yet to be decided. Chief among the issues to be negotiated in the 2009 Legislature: how to distribute emission allowances (should they be auctioned or given away?) and how to differentiate valid carbon offset programs from scams.
Oregon is well positioned to benefit from the carbon market because its hydropower infrastructure results in fewer emissions and its vibrant clean tech sector is hungry for new opportunities. Major law firms such as Stoel Rives and investment firms such as Nth Power are emerging as experts in turning green initiatives into moneymakers, while SERA Architects, Gerding & Edlen and a host of other green-building specialists are leading a massive shift toward energy efficiency in the built environment. Dennis Wilde, a principal at Gerding & Edlen who leads the firm’s Sustainable Solutions spin-off, says he can foresee “net-zero” buildings that produce as much power as they use hitting the market within five to seven years.
Portland’s green-building boom resulted in part from public policy: state tax credits to encourage energy conservation and city codes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Not only has Portland met its early goals of reducing pollution, it has spurred the development of an industry with great market potential. One bright spot as the bottom has fallen out of the Portland housing market over the past year has been the growing sales of “green” homes. According to Sean Penrith, executive director of the Portland nonprofit Earth Advantage, certified sustainable homes sell for an average of $38 more per square foot than the market average, and spend fewer days on the market before selling.
Some of the biggest winners of the shift to a low-carbon future will be businesses that do not yet exist. One early adopter is Woodland Carbon Company, led by CEO Mike Gaudern. His goal as executive director of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association has been to help 70,000 small-scale timber-holding families to thrive, no easy task with timber prices stagnant and the housing market in a tailspin. His solution: carbon offsets.
Gaudern plans to collaborate with woodland owners to develop sustainable forestry projects to sell on the carbon market. By his calculations, a 3,000-acre project can yield about 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent offsets. Multiply that by whatever the market determines CO2 is worth, (generally expected to be somewhere between $10 and $80 per ton, depending on global policies as the market develops), and you get some real potential for profits.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY KIM MOORE
A conversation with leading partners at law firms in Portland and eastern Oregon, followed by October's powerlist.
Friday, October 31, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
Why are there so few transportation startups in Portland? The city’s leadership in bike, transit and pedestrian transportation has been well-documented. But that was then — when government and nonprofits paved the way for a new, less auto centric way of life.
Friday, September 26, 2014
BY JASON NORRIS | GUEST BLOGGER
This post focuses on the recent release of the new Apple iPhone as well as Alibaba's IPO, the largest U.S. IPO in history.
Monday, October 06, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
Intel's manufacturing way station; Merkley's attack dog; Diamond Foods gets into the innovation business.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JOE ROJAS-BURKE & KIM MOORE
Oregon Business reports on the visa squeeze, the skills gap and foreign-born residents who are revitalizing rural Oregon.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
BY JASON NORRIS | OB CONTRIBUTOR
Each month for Oregon Business, we assess factors that are shaping current capital market activity—and what they mean to investors. Here we take a look at two major developments regarding possible rollbacks of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY HANNAH WALLACE
Well-financed outsiders from France and California are buying up vineyards and wineries in the Willamette Valley.
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Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.
Get ready for two days of special events produced with the EPA, Portland Timbers and ISOS before and after the GoGreen Conference on October 16.
Plenty of employers seem “dazed and confused” after the recent vote to legalize marijuana. In light of Measure 91 passing, what are some issues for private-sector Oregon employers to consider?
Rotary’s Oregon Ethics in Business aims to raise consciousness about business ethics by honoring exceptional companies.
Barran Liebman’s annual employment law seminar is an industry classic.
Is my drug-free workplace policy up in smoke?
More than 400 "Change Makers" will gather to invest in a socially sustainable community.