Californians Flock to Chicago Climate Exchange

By Published On: February 23, 2007

Lured by the chance to make money and show a binding commitment to fighting global warming, California businesses and local governments are rushing in ever-greater numbers to join the Chicago Climate Exchange. Members of the Chicago exchange – a strictly voluntary greenhouse gas emissions registration, reduction, and trading program – account for 10 percent of the nation’s stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The cities of Berkeley and Oakland belong to the Chicago exchange. Earlier this month, Sacramento County became the first California county and the second county in the nation to join the exchange. Major companies that operate or are headquartered in California – from Motorola and Waste Management to food giant Safeway – also belong. “We’re putting ourselves up to be held accountable,” said Sacramento County supervisor Roger Dickinson when his board approved membership on February 6. “We’re making a binding commitment.” The county of Sacramento will register both its direct and indirect emissions with the Chicago exchange, according to Carl Mosher, county director of facility planning, architecture, and real estate. Direct emissions come from vehicles and gas-burning appliances in buildings. Indirect emissions result from the electricity that the local government purchases from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. The increase in California membership comes as carbon-trading volume in Chicago has grown tenfold, to 10 million tons of CO2 last year. Trading volume is projected to continue to increase this year. The exchange, which opened in 2003, has grown to 225 members, according to Thomas Cushing, exchange vice-president. It includes many utilities and generators, though none from California. All exchange members pledge to reduce their actual emissions by 6 percent by 2010. Members that do not make those reductions must still meet their obligations by buying emissions reduction credits from exchange participants that have cut emissions below the cap on their carbon levels. “Think of our atmosphere as the high-rent district,” Cushing told a gathering of automotive executives in Los Angeles last week. “Everybody wants to be there.” Over the past couple of years, U.S. farmers have become a key source of emissions offsets for the Chicago exchange, said Cushing, through manure management and no-till agriculture projects. Typical is Gallo Cattle in Atwater, California, which collects methane gas from its cow manure. It burns it in a cogeneration unit that produces electricity and steam for its cheese-making plant next door. “I’m hoping that the value of these credits will increase,” said Carl Morris, Gallo chief operating officer. The company is generating 30,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions reduction credits a year with its methane digesters and on-site generating plants while supplying 60 percent of the electricity needed by its nearby dairy. Burning the gas creates emissions reduction credits because the resulting carbon dioxide is a less powerful greenhouse gas than raw methane. Gallo first sold greenhouse credits on an ad hoc basis in 2005. It then received ongoing interest from purchasers, so the company decided to join the Chicago exchange, said Morris. It paid $1,000 to join, plus $3,700 to verify the emissions credits, he said. Gallo will pay $1,000 a year to maintain its membership in the exchange. The company earlier this year entered an agreement to sell methane from manure – after scrubbing it – to Pacific Gas & Electric to help supply its natural gas distribution system (Circuit, Feb. 16, 2007). Pleasanton-based Safeway joined the Chicago exchange last fall after entering an agreement to purchase 174,000 MWh of wind power. That amounts to more than enough power to run its headquarters, many of its stores, and other facilities. The company is planning additional steps to reduce fossil-fuel use, including new energy-efficient lighting and refrigeration equipment. The exchange also operates carbon-trading markets in Europe, according to Cushing. It is opening a new trading floor in Montreal.

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