Snapshot Report: 2012 PUC Complaint Data

Electric consumer complaints filed in Texas decreased during the 2012 fiscal year, although the number remains at least five times greater than the pre-electric deregulation average, according to this Snapshot Report by Texas Coalition for Affordable Power.

The analysis also shows that complaints relating to the installation of advanced meters have increased over the last year, as well as complaints relating to a controversial policy of blocking some households from switching electric companies. TCAP based its analysis on a review of annual complaint data received by the state’s Public Utility Commission.

Electricity related complaints averaged around 1,300 each year prior to implementation of the deregulation law to as much as 17,250 under deregulation. The most common complaint relates to billing, although discontinuance and provision of service complaints also rank high.

Good news/bad news story — Electricity complaints continue decline in 2012, but still more than five times greater than pre-deregulation average.

Complaints year over year

Under deregulation, Texans living in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and other areas can choose among a number of competing providers for electricity service. Texas deregulated those markets in 2002 after a brief deregulation pilot project the previous year. The dramatic uptick in complaints occurred during the pilot project and after the market opening.

puc-complaints-8xhigher

Although population growth and the increased use of the Internet may explain some of the increase, those factors alone cannot explain the immediate quadrupling of complaints during the first year of deregulation and the dramatic difference in numbers before and after the law. The PUC has not conducted any formal study of the reasons behind the increase. However, persistent customer confusion may play a role, as retail electric provider contracts can be bewilderingly complex. Spiking electricity prices in 2008 and 2009 and the financial failure of several providers in 2008 probably also contributed to a high number of complaints during those years.

This brief examines complaints submitted to the PUC’s Office of Customer Protection, which was established in July 1997. All data are given for fiscal years, and has been obtained from the PUC under the Texas Open Records law, or extrapolated from publicly available PUC reports and newspaper accounts. Data for 1998, 1999 and 2000 are estimated figures. Texans unhappy with their electric service have a right to file complaints with the PUC, and the Office of Customer Protection is charged with investigating complaints within a specified period.

image

The Snapshot analysis finds:

  • The fewer than 9,000 complaints relating to electric service filed with the PUC in FY 2012 represents the third lowest complaint tally since deregulation began in 2002. However, it remains more than five times greater than the annual average number of complaints filed prior to deregulation.
  • The plurality of complaints submitted to the PUC over the last two fiscal years relate to electric bills. For instance, in FY 2011, 37 percent of complaints related to billing while the next largest category of complaints — provision of service — amounted to 20 percent of complaints. In FY 2012, 36 percent related to billing.
  • The company practice of placing holds on customer accounts generated 44 complaints in FY 2011 and 303 in FY 2012 — a nearly six-fold increase. Under controversial “switch hold” rules approved by the PUC, some households can be barred from the retail electric market if they get behind in their payments or if they are accused of tampering with their utility meters.
  • The PUC’s Office of Customer Protection fielded 113 complaints relating to Advanced Metering Systems, also known as “smart” meters. Some consumers have been very vocal in their opposition to the meters, and have raised privacy and health concerns.
  • According to the most recent PUC data (as of March 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012), the retail electric providers with the highest complaint rates are Frontier, Glacial, PenStar Power (formerly Freedom), Texpo Energy (also known as Y.E.P./Southwest P&L) and DPI Energy.
  • According to the most recent PUC data (as of March 1, 2012 through August 31, 2012), the retail electric providers with the lowest complaint rates are Liberty Power, OnPAC Energy (Pegasus Alliance Corp), Nueces Electric Coop, Champion Energy, WTU Retail, Reliant Energy, TXU Energy and CPL Retail Energy.
  • The PUC also received fewer complaints relating to LITE-UP Texas, which is an electricity bill assistance program designed to help low-income ratepayers. The agency received 146 LITE-UP complaints in 2011, and 99 in 2012.

How to lodge a complaint with the PUC

Under the PUC’s complaint process, customers can file a complaint against a company with the agency. The PUC then makes an inquiry with the company, which has 21 days to respond. A PUC investigator evaluates the company’s response to determine whether it failed to follow the law.

Customers wishing to file complaints regarding their electric service can do so through the agency’s Office of Customer Protection, which can be reached at 1-888-782-8477, by email at customer@puc.state.tx.us, or online at http://puc.state.tx.us/consumer/complaint/Complaint.aspx.

Texans can also review specific complaint data for competitive electric providers at http://powertochoose.com.

Stay informed on the latest news in Texas energy and electricity at TCAP’s online newsletter: Recharge Ratepayer Report.

Menu