Looking to switch electric service? Lots of folks already know the www.powertochoose.org website is a good place to start when you’re comparing prices. What’s less known is that the website also includes useful data about customer complaint rates.

Here’s how it works. Every six months a new report card gets posted on the website that ranks retail electric providers using a dot system. One dot is good, signifying “lowest complaint rate.” Five dots is bad, signifying “highest complaint rate.” REPs receive dots based on a ratio of complaints filed against them versus the number of customers they serve. Hence a small REP with many complaints should get a worse ranking (more dots) than a large REP with the same number of complaints.

At the powertochoose.org website you can find both the most current complaint scorecard, plus many older ones. The website also includes raw data so consumers can get a sense for the specific sorts of complaints filed against individual REPs. For instance, one REP may get plenty of slamming complaints, while another might be tops for billing problems.

These are great tools, especially given that some of the same companies appear to get listed month after month as having the worst complaint records. This might suggest that consumers might think twice before signing up with such companies — even if those companies offer relatively low-cost rate plans.

And remember it’s always a good idea to compare both prices and the complaint data before deciding on a retail electric provider. Also read the fine print. Plenty of REPs charge extra fees that might not be immediately apparent otherwise.

— R.A. Dyer