Climate law seen raising gasoline 13 cents a gallon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. climate legislation would hike gasoline prices about 13 cents a gallon as oil companies push the price of carbon permits on to consumers, according to report by Point Carbon, an independent consulting company that tracks global carbon and energy markets.

The analysts did not share the oil industry’s view that a U.S. cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gas emissions would decimate demand for gasoline and force large numbers of refineries to shut down.

Climate legislation being debated in the Senate after passing in the House of Representatives narrowly in June would force big polluters to hold carbon credits for every tonne of carbon they emit.

Point Carbon analyst Emilie Mazzacurati said oil companies would face substantial carbon permit costs under the legislation because they would get few of the permits the government would distribute to companies during the first years of a cap-and-trade program.

But that should not hurt integrated oil companies very much, she said, because they could largely pass the costs on to consumers in the form of higher fuel prices.

If carbon prices average about $15 a tonne, about half the level at which price controls could start to kick in, oil companies would would boost gasoline prices about 5 percent from current levels, or 13 cents a gallon, the report said.

Exxon Mobil Corp, for example, could face about $5.9 billion a year in carbon permit prices, but would be able to recoup all but about $277 million of that, the report said.

“They are just going to increase prices, which is going to allow them to recover the money they are spending buying (carbon) allowances,” Mazzacurati said.

Point Carbon assumed the fuel price rise would not be enough to reduce demand for gasoline.

Power generators could face higher costs than oil companies, Point Carbon said, because they are not as free to boost electricity rates, which are controlled by state governments.

That means power generators who burn large amounts of coal would face big permit costs they would not be able to recover.

Utility Southern Co would face the highest costs of the largest emitters in the energy business, Point Carbon said. Carbon regulation could cost Southern an amount equal to about 3 percent of its yearly revenue.

“Climate legislation should not be about winners and losers but protecting the economy, our customers, and the economy,” said a Southern spokeswoman in an email.

Power generators that rely more on low-carbon power sources could make out quite well. Exelon Corp, which owns the country’s biggest nuclear power fleet, could see its annual revenue jump 9 percent, Point Carbon said.

That’s because Exelon would not have to buy large amounts of carbon permits that the big coal burners would, but they would be able to take advantage of any higher power prices that resulted from national emissions regulation.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker