by Elizabeth Outzs, Energy News Network

Duke Energy’s effort to expand a popular energy-efficiency program to its entire North Carolina service area is drawing stiff opposition from a surprising quarter: Duke Energy. 

For nearly four years, Piedmont Natural Gas — one of Duke’s wholly owned subsidiaries — and the state’s other major gas distribution company have stymied incentives for new high-efficiency homes, claiming with scant evidence that the rebate scheme will lose them customers.

North Carolina utility regulators could issue a decision at any moment. 

The struggle before them is in many ways an extension of the gas industry’s decades-old battle against “fuel switching.” But it also comes as growing numbers of states and local jurisdictions with ambitious climate pledges are moving to require or promote all-electric buildings.

According to literally every stakeholder involved but the gas companies, Duke’s efficiency rebate program won’t have that effect. 

But the nationwide trend appears to have the gas industry on edge: It’s pushing a bill in the state legislature to prevent local governments from banning new gas hookups, even though none are on the horizon. 

And it’s derailing an incentive program lauded by efficiency advocates and builders based largely on field reports that could amount to nothing more than coincidence.

“A couple examples of new developments going all electric,” said Mark Kresowik, a deputy director for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in the Mid-Atlantic, is no reason for regulators to reject such an “incredibly important and beneficial program.”

‘Not productive for either industry’

The seeds of the current controversy were planted in the mid-1990s, in an energy landscape almost unrecognizable today. Duke was decades from buying Piedmont Natural Gas or merging with the state’s other major electric utility.  Electricity was produced almost entirely from nuclear and coal; natural gas wouldn’t be used in a power plant until 2000. Gas furnaces and water heaters were

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