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BEIJING, Jan 8 (Reuters) - China's large state-owned power firms have taken the lead in the country's nascent carbon offset market, leveraging preferential procedures to cut the cost of complying with new rules capping greenhouse gas emissions.
The central government will issue offsets, known as Chinese Certified Emissions Reductions (CCERs), under a new programme to reward projects that can prove they cut carbon emissions.
Companies covered by China's five recently launched emissions trading schemes can use CCERs to cover 5 percent to 10 percent of their emissions, making for an attractive low-cost compliance option.
But China's state-owned enterprises get preferential treatment as they can apply directly to the central government for eligibility, while private firms face a time-consuming process to get approval from regional authorities before they can turn to Beijing.
"This will cut compliance costs for the state-owned companies, and since they are first in line to take on targets in the envisaged national (carbon) market, the earlier they move, the less costly it will be for them," said Chen Bo, a researcher at the Central University of Finance and Economics.
State enterprises own six of the first seven projects up for consideration later this week by a technical panel under the offset programme. China General Nuclear runs four of them, all wind farms.
The advantage held by the state-owned enterprises may prove especially important in the first year of the scheme.
Companies covered by carbon markets in Beijing, Guangdong, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin must hand permits to regulators to cover for their 2013 emissions by the end of June, and getting low-cost credits issued by then will be a race against time, especially for private firms.
Traders say it will take 6 to 8 months from the design phase until a project can receive its first CCERs.
The budding market has yet to establish a clear and transparent price for the carbon credits.
So far only two CCER trades have been reported, with state-owned PetroChina snapping up two batches of 10,000 offsets at 16 yuan ($2.64) and 20 yuan ($3.31) each.
But a number of further deals are being negotiated in the range of 10 yuan to 13 yuan, said one consultant advising firms on carbon transactions, who wished to remain anonymous.
A carbon manager at a SOE said his company would use the offset for its own compliance purposes unless offers emerged at around 30 yuan or higher.
Some buyers are seeking CCERs from private developers as low as 4 to 5 yuan, market sources said.
Permits in the five operational markets trade in a wide range, from 73 yuan in Shenzhen to 26.50 in Tianjin. (Editing by Clarence Fernandez)