PUC COMPLAINT DATA

A Snapshot Report

2017 Edition

The number of electricity-related complaints filed by consumers with Texas regulators continues to decline, and now has dropped to the lowest annual level since the state deregulated most of its retail electric market 16 years ago, according to a review of government data.

All told, Texans filed 4,175 electricity-related complaints or inquiries with the Texas Public Utility Commission during the most recent fiscal year. This is below the previous post-deregulation low set during FY 2016 when the PUC logged 4,835 electricity-related complaints or inquiries. It also marks the third consecutive decline, and the continuation of a generally downward trend that began nearly a decade ago.

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.
Electricity Complaints Filed with Texas PUC since 1998

Positive trend continues

The FY 2017 data suggest that electric customer sentiment in Texas continues improving. This year’s findings build upon similar upbeat analyses conducted by TCAP in recent years.  For instance, other than the 2017 fiscal year, the three post-deregulation years in which the PUC registered the fewest electricity complaints and inquiries were FY 2016, FY 2015, and FY 2013.   

The nearly 14 percent year-to-year drop in electricity complaints between FY 2016 and FY 2017 comes on top of a nearly 31 percent year-to-year drop in electricity complaints and inquiries recorded between FY 2015 and FY 2016. These declining numbers are part of generally downward trend that began in FY 2009. Texans that year filed nearly four times as many complaints and inquiries as they did in FY 2017.

The falling number of complaints may be explained, in part, by corresponding drops in residential electric prices since 2009 [see TCAP’s Snapshot Report on Electric Prices in Texas]. Texans also have become more familiar with the state’s competitive retail electricity system. This likely also has contributed to a drop in complaints since 2002, which was the first year of the state’s deregulated retail electricity market.

The PUC also recorded drops in eight discrete categories of electric complaints during FY 2017, and simultaneous increases in two categories.

Besides filing fewer complaints in FY 2017, Texans also received fewer complaint-driven refunds, according to PUC data.  Customers received $157,336 in refunds in FY 2017, compared to $276,770 in FY2016 and $450,183 in FY 2015.

Despite the precipitous drop in annual complaints and inquiries since 2009, the average number during the state’s deregulated era remains significantly higher than those tracked during the state’s pre-deregulation years. However, data for pre-deregulation years are limited to only four years: 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. As noted above, Texas deregulated most of the retail electric market in 2002.

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.  The weighted complaint rankings found on the site take into account both the number of customers a given company serves, as well as the number of complaints the PUC has received about that company. In this way, a company that receives a relatively large number of complaints may still receive a favorable complaint ranking if it also serves a relatively large number of customers.

Electricity Complaints Filed with Texas PUC 2017

Key Findings

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The PUC recorded 4,175 electricity-related complaints or inquiries during the 2017 fiscal year. That’s the fewest tallied by the agency since retail electric deregulation began in 2002.

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The average number of electricity-related complaints or inquiries filed on an annual basis since the retail electric deregulation law took effect is 9,808. The highest number of complaints filed during a single fiscal year was 17,250. These were recorded during the second year of the retail electric deregulation law.

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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.

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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 dramatically high number of complaints observed during the early years of the deregulation law.

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According to PUC records, Texans who filed electricity-related complaints with the PUC were awarded $157,336 in refunds during the 2017 fiscal year. That was 43 percent less than the $276,770 awarded during the 2016 fiscal year and 65 percent less than the $450,183 awarded during the 2014 fiscal year.

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As with FY 2016, the plurality of complaints during FY 2017 relate to “billing” [see complaint definitions, below]. The PUC reported 42.5 percent of the electricity-related complaints and inquiries it received during the fiscal year related to “billing” and another 17 percent related to “provision of service.” In FY 2016, 41.8 percent of the complaints related to “billing” and 16.4 percent related to” provision of service.”

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Of the 10 categories of complaints monitored by the PUC, in only two categories did the agency register an increase from the previous fiscal year. These were in the “meters” category, for which there were 383 complaints in FY 2017 as compared to 356 in FY 2016; and the “sub-metering” category, for which there were 40 complaints in FY 2017 as compared to 28 in FY 2016.

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Complaints and inquiries were down in all other categories: billing, cramming, discontinuance, LITE-UP, provision of service, quality of service, slamming, and switch-hold.

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According to recent weighted complaint rankings from the PUC (as of February 1, 2017 through July 31, 2017), retail electric providers with the worst complaint rankings included Accent Energy (Dynowatt/IGS Energy), Wolverine Alternative Investments (Stat Energy), Hino Electric, Acacia Energy (Brooklet Energy), Source Power and Gas (Beyond Power), Verde Energy (Potentia Energy), Volt Electricity Provider, Spark Energy, Axon Power & Gas, Entrust Energy, and Frontier.

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Hino and Acacia also were among companies with the worst complaint rankings in surveys conducted during the previous two years.

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According to recent weighted complaint rankings from the PUC (as of February 1, 2017 through July 31, 2017), retail electric providers with the best complaint rankings were Alliance Power (APC Electric), MidAmerica Energy, MP2 Energy Texas, Engie Retail (Think Energy), Nueces Electric Coop (NEP Retail), Texpo Energy (Y.E.P./Southwest P&L), Reliant Energy, CPL Retail Energy, TXU Energy, Infuse Energy, and Just Energy.

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Alliance Power, MidAmerica Energy, Nueces Electric Coop (NEC Retail), TXU and Reliant also were among those with the best complaint rankings in surveys during the previous two years.

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.

 

The Office of Customer Protection can be reached by calling 1-888-782-8477, by email at customer@puc.state.tx.us, or online at http://puc.state.tx.us.

Texans can also review specific complaint data for competitive electric providers at http://powertochoose.org. TCAP recommends that consumers always check this complaint data when shopping for electricity.

Definitions of Complaint Categories

Source: Public Utility Commission of Texas

Billing – These are complaints concerned with the amount a customer has been billed or any rule that specifically deals with customer billing.  Complaints in this category often relate to state programs and fees; lack of billing; deposits and refunds; and rates and charges. 

Cramming – These complaints relate to “cramming,” which refers to the inappropriate addition of charges (typically for optional services) to a consumer’s electric bill, without that customer’s permission.

Discontinuance – These are complaints concerned with disconnection of service, including lack of appropriate notice prior to the disconnection; disconnection of service despite a customer having a payment plan in place; and disputes over the amount due.

Meters – These are complaints concerned with meter tampering, denial of access to a meter, meter rereading and meter testing.

Provision of Service – These are complaints concerned with initiation of service, timely startup of service, refusal of service, deceptive or misleading service, and customer service. 

Quality of Service – These are complaints concerned with physical problems such as power surges or power outages. 

Slamming – These are complaints relating to “slamming,” which is the illegal practice of changing a consumer for electric service without the customer’s permission.  It also can mean continuing to process a switch service for a customer after he or she has cancelled a switch request. 

Sub-metering –These complaints deal with the sub-metering of electric consumption on the customer side of the utility’s primary meter. Sub-metering issues sometime occur in apartment complexes or other multi-unit settings.

Switch-Hold – These complaints deal with disputes over suspension of customer service through a utility “switch-hold.” A ratepayer residing at a location with a switch-hold cannot buy electricity from any provider until the switch-hold is lifted. Switch-holds can be applied when customers are accused of meter tampering or in certain instances when a customer gets behind in his or her electric bill payments.

LITE-UP – These complaints deal with bill payment assistance previously provided through the “Low-Income Telephone and Electric Discount Program.” However, funding for this program has been suspended by the Texas Legislature.

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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