Snapshot Report: 2013 PUC Complaint Data

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.

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS STORY: ELECTRICITY COMPLAINTS LOWEST SINCE ELECTRIC DEREGULATION, BUT STILL MUCH HIGHER THAN PRE-DEREG LEVELS

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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.

PostvspreDespite 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.

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Additional Findings:

  • The PUC’s Office of Customer Protection recorded 7,129 electricity related complaints during the 2013 fiscal year. That’s the lowest number of complaints tallied by the agency since deregulation began in 2002.
  • Texans who filed complaints with the PUC received nearly $550,000 in refunds during the 2013 fiscal year.
  • The plurality of complaints submitted to the PUC over the last two fiscal years relate to electric bills. In FY 2012, 36 percent of complaints related to billing while the next largest category of complaints — provision of service — amounted to 19 percent. In FY 2013, 40 percent related to billing and 16 percent related to provision of service.
  • The practice by some companies of ordering holds on customer accounts generated 133 complaints in FY 2013. 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.
  • According to the most recent PUC data (as of March 1, 2013 through August 31, 2013), the three retail electric providers with the highest complaint rates are DPI Energy, Potentia Energy and Acacia Energy. DPI Energy also was among those with the highest complaint rates in a survey last year (in data collected between March 1, 2012 and Aug. 31 2012).
  • According to the most recent PUC data (as of March 1, 2013 through August 31, 2013), the three retail electric providers with the lowest complaint rates are Glacial, Nueces Electric Cooperative and TXU Energy. The Nueces Electric Cooperative and TXU Energy were among those with the lowest complaint rates in a survey last year (in data collected between March 1, 2012 and Aug. 31, 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’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 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. TCAP recommends that consumers always check this complaint data when shopping for electricity.

Stay informed on the latest news in Texas energy and electricity at TCAP’s online newsletter, at TCAPTX.com, or at RechargeTexas.com.

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