Electric consumer complaints have fallen for the fourth consecutive year in Texas and now stand at the lowest level so far recorded under the state’s electric deregulation law.
An analysis of data filed with Texas regulators also shows a nearly 17 percent drop in complaints from the previous fiscal year and a more than 55 percent drop from 2009 — a peak year for customer dissatisfaction.
But despite the progress, electricity-related complaints remain much more common today than during pre-deregulation years, the analysis shows.
The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power reviews on an annual basis electricity complaint data filed with the state’s Public Utility Commission. The data is culled from electric consumer complaints reported to the agency’s Office of Customer Protection, which was established in July 1997.
All data are given for fiscal years, and has been obtained 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.
On balance, the news is good. The 2013 fiscal year marked the fourth straight year of declining complaints. Compared to the previous fiscal year, complaints decreased in most subcategories monitored by the agency.
The improved complaint rate may relate to increased familiarity with the Texas market by consumers. However, the drop in complaints also roughly parallels drops in electricity prices since 2009, which is related to changes to the natural gas commodity market.
Despite the good news, a longer historical review reveals that challenges remain. The overall number of complaints relating to electricity remains well above numbers recorded prior to the implementation of retail electric deregulation in 2002. The number of complaints filed on an average annual basis prior to deregulation was slightly more than 1,316. The average number of complaints after deregulation is slightly more than 11,111.
Complaints quadrupled with the transition to deregulation and have never returned to pre-deregulation levels, the analysis shows. Population growth and the increased use of the Internet to facilitate the complaint process can explain some of the overall increase in complaints during the deregulation years — but probably not all of it.
For this analysis, TCAP reviewed all electricity-related complaints and electricity service inquiries reported to the PUC for each fiscal year since 1998. This analysis also includes complaints or inquiries relating to the LITE-UP low-income assistance program, which are not included in the PUC’s complaint report filed with the Texas Legislature. This analysis does not tabulate complaints filed directly with electric companies, but not to regulators. It is unclear whether the quantity of complaints filed directly to electric companies has increased or decreased over time.
Texans can find complaint data for individual companies at the state’s electricity shopping website, powertochoose.com. Under recent website modifications advocated by TCAP, search query results now include complaint ratings along with pricing information for retail electric providers.
Under the PUC’s complaint process, customers can file a complaint against a company with the agency’s Office of Customer Protection. Agency employees then make 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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. TCAP recommends that consumers always check this complaint data when shopping for electricity.