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, according to an analysis of regulatory data by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power.
All told, electricity-related complaints filed with the Texas Public Utility Commission have declined nearly 17 percent from the 2012 fiscal year, and are less than half the number from a peak recorded in 2009.
But despite the clear progress, Texas electricity consumers continue to file many more complaints on an annual average basis than they filed prior to retail electric deregulation 11 years ago, the analysis shows.
“The decline in customer complaints comes as good news for Texas consumers, and may suggest that the market has matured since the inception of electric deregulation in 2002,” said Dr. Randy Moravec, TCAP executive director. “However, Texans still file many more complaints today than they filed prior to electric competition. The data show continuing dissatisfaction relating to billing and customer service. When selecting a retail electric provider, customers should use the powertochoose website to identify complaint ratings for providers in addition to their prices.”
For its analysis, TCAP reviewed 16 years of complaint data at the PUC, the state agency that oversees the Texas electricity market. The analysis reveals that electric complaints have declined four years in a row, and in FY 2013 stood at 7,129. The drop follows a downward trend in Texas electricity prices, which in turn is linked to changes in the commodity price of natural gas — a key fuel for many electricity plants.
The 2013 complaint numbers also are the lowest since 2,062 were filed one year prior to retail electric deregulation in Texas. Under the deregulated market system, retail electric providers in many parts of the state can compete for customers. In theory, dissatisfied customers can express their displeasure by switching providers.
The analysis shows that Texans filed significantly fewer complaints prior to deregulation. The average annual number of electricity-related complaints fielded by the PUC during the four pre-deregulation years in the survey was approximately 1,316. After deregulation, it was 11,111. 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 dramatic differences.
But that doesn’t mean the new data for 2013 shouldn’t be greeted as good news, said TCAP’s Moravec. “We’re hopeful that as Texans become more familiar with the market, that complaints will continue to decline,” he said.
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 data along with pricing information for retail electric providers.
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 email@example.com, or online at http://puc.state.tx.us/consumer/complaint/Complaint.aspx. When appropriate, the PUC will investigate such complaints, and may sanction companies if a rule violation is found.
TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 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.