SNAPSHOT REPORT: 2016 PUC COMPLAINT DATA

Published October, 2016

Electricity complaints filed with the Texas Public Utility Commission have fallen to a new post-electric deregulation low, according to a review of agency data.

All told, Texans filed 4,835 electricity-related complaints or inquiries during the most recent fiscal year. This number is well below the previous post-deregulation low, which was set during FY 2015 when the PUC logged 6,973 electricity-related complaints or inquiries. The state deregulated most of its retail electricity market in 2002.

The PUC data also shows a year-to-year drop in nine categories of complaints, and an increase in only one category.

This Snapshot Report is based upon a review of electricity complaints and inquiries filed with the PUC’s Office of Customer Protection, which was established in July 1997. The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power reviews this data on an annual basis.

All data are given for fiscal years and have been obtained under the Texas Open Records law or extrapolated from publicly available PUC reports and from newspaper accounts. Data for 1998, 1999 and 2000 are estimated figures. TCAP considers both complaints and inquiries in order to gauge general consumer sentiment and also to maintain a uniform methodology across the study period.

VERY UPBEAT NUMBERS FOR FY 2016

The FY 2016 data suggests that electric customer sentiment in Texas is improving. This year’s findings build upon similar upbeat analyses conducted by TCAP during the last three fiscal years.

For instance, other than the 2016 fiscal year, the three post-deregulation years in which the PUC registered the fewest electricity complaints and inquiries were FY 2015, FY 2014 and FY 2013.

The nearly 31 percent year-to-year drop in electricity complaints and inquiries recorded between FY 2015 and FY 2016 is the second largest such dip so far observed by TCAP. Residential electricity prices are lower now than they were several years ago and Texans have become more familiar with the deregulated system — two factors that likely are contributing to the drop in complaints. Also, two big complaint drivers from previous years — advanced meter installations and the Sharyland Utility — are no longer causing as much customer dissatisfaction.

The PUC also reported a drop in almost all discrete categories of electric complaints over the last fiscal year. These include a drop in meter complaints, provision of service complaints and those relating to “switch-holds,” which is the practice of blocking residential electric service.

Besides filing fewer complaints in FY 2016, Texans also received a smaller amount in complaint-driven refunds during that fiscal year than during the previous one, according to PUC data. Customers received $276,770 in refunds, in 2016, as compared to $450,183 in FY 2015 and $421,862 in FY 2014.

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 does not tabulate complaints filed directly with electric companies.

Texans can find complaint data for individual retail electric providers at the state’s electricity shopping website, powertochoose.org.  On the site, companies are assigned weighted complaint rankings that take into account both the number of customers the company serves and the number of complaints the PUC has received about that company.

KEY FINDINGS:

  • The PUC recorded 4,835 electricity-related complaints or inquiries during the 2016 fiscal year. By far, that’s the fewest tallied by the agency since retail electric deregulation began in 2002.
  • The average number of electricity-related complaints or inquiries filed on an annual basis since the retail electric deregulation law took effect is 10,184.6. The highest number of complaints filed during a single fiscal year was 17,250, during the second year of the retail electric deregulation law.
  • The average number of electricity-related complaints and inquiries filed with the PUC during each fiscal year prior to electric deregulation was 1,315.8. However, there are only four years of data for that earlier analysis.
  • Complaints quadrupled with the transition to deregulation in 2002 and have never returned to pre-deregulation levels. Although population growth and the increased use of the Internet to facilitate the complaint process can explain some of the increase, it’s unlikely that those factors alone account for the high number of complaints observed during the early years of the deregulation law.
  • According to PUC records, Texans who filed electricity-related complaints with the PUC received in $276,770 refunds during the 2016 fiscal year, or about 38.6 percent less than the $450,183 awarded during the 2014 fiscal year.
  • The plurality of complaints and inquiries submitted to the PUC in FY 2016 relate to electric bills. Approximately 42 percent related to billing and another 16 percent related to provision of service In FY 2015, 48 percent related to billing and 14 percent related to provision of service.
  • Of the 10 categories of complaints monitored by the PUC, in only one category did the agency register an increase since FY 2015. That was the “quality of service” category, for which there were 372 complaints in FY 2015 and 573 in FY 2016. That’s a nearly 54 percent increase. This marked the second year in a row that complaints have increased in this category — despite the overall drop in complaints overall.
  • Complaints and inquiries were down in other categories — including a nearly 39.4 percent decrease in complaints related to billing. Similarly, there was a 45.3 percent drop in complaints related to electric meters and a 33.8 percent drop in complaints related to discontinuance of service.
  • There was a precipitous drop in complaints registered against a single company, Dallas-based Sharyland Utilities, which were so numerous during 2015 that the PUC had opened a special proceeding that resulted in a slight rate decrease for some customers. In FY 2015, there were 437 complaints filed against Sharyland. In FY 2016, the number was 122.
  • Public concern over advanced meters appears to have largely dissipated. In FY 2013, the PUC’s Office of Customer Protection fielded 113 complaints related to Advanced Meter Systems. It fielded no such complaints during FY 2016 or in FY 2015. Some consumers during previous years had been very vocal in their opposition to the meters, and had raised both privacy and health concerns.
  • According to recent weighted complaint rankings from the PUC (as of March 1, 2016 through August 31, 2016), retail electric providers with the worst complaint rankings included Hino Electric, Acacia Energy (also known as Brooklet Energy), Breeze, Axon Power & Gas LLC, Ameripower, 4Change Energy Company, Clearview Electric, Entrust Energy, LPT, Infuse Energy and PenStar Power (formerly Freedom).
  • Hino and Acacia also were among companies with the highest complaint ratings in a survey last year.
  • According to recent weighted complaint rankings from the PUC (as of March 1, 2016 through August 31, 2016) retail electric providers with the best complaint rankings were V247 Power, Andeler, Alliance Power (APC Electric), MidAmerica Energy, Iluminar Energy (Conservice Energy), Nueces Electric Cooperative (NEC Retail), TXU Energy, CPL Retail Energy, Reliant Energy, Summer Energy and Texpo Energy (Y.E.P./Southwest P&L).
  • Alliance Power (APC Electric), MidAmerica Energy, Iluminar Energy (Conservice Energy), Nueces Electric Coop (NEC Retail), Andeler, TXU Energy and Reliant Energy also were among those with the best complaint rankings in a survey last year.

Questions about the report? Or, would you like to have the author speak at your event?

How to lodge a complaint with the PUC

Electricity customers wishing to file complaints can do so through the PUC’s Office of Customer Protection, which can be reached at 1-888-782-8477, by email at customer@puc.texas.gov, or online at http://www.puc.texas.gov/consumer/complaint/Complaint.aspx. When appropriate, the PUC will investigate such complaints, and may sanction companies if a rule violation is found.

R.A. "Jake" Dyer

R.A. "Jake" Dyer

Is a policy analyst for TCAP, a coalition of cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.

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