My Daily Journal column today explores the importance of reviving this crucial standard in a state that guarantees its electric utilities a locked-in consumer base. The NC Ratepayers Protection Act, currently in the N.C. House, would do exactly that.

State leaders set this standard aside to accommodate renewable energy generation, but the past few years have shown that renewable energy portfolio standards (REPS) mandates are notorious electricity price hikers.

Ironically, even advocates of renewable energy will hail the least-cost standard — when they think it favors renewable energy.

Consider NC WARN’s study of July 2010 that purported to show “Solar and Nuclear Costs — The Historic Crossover” (my former colleague Daren Bakst exposed that report’s fatal flaws in estimating the costs of solar vs. nuclear here). A salient part from the NC WARN report:

The solar power industry is poised to bring in new production facilities and create good jobs distributed across the state. All that is required is for the N.C. Utilities Commission to enforce its own “least cost” requirements.

If, under a true accounting of the full costs and benefits of various electricity sources, solar finally achieves cost competitiveness, then the return to the “least-cost” standard would help solar. HB 681 would ensure that solar and other renewables remains an option for electricity generation, along with traditional sources.

Meantime, the most important issue regarding electricity for most North Carolina consumers is least-cost power available at the flip of the switch.