PUC COMPLAINT DATA

A Snapshot Report
2018 Edition
Breaking a generally declining trend, the number of electricity-related complaints filed with Texas regulators jumped by nearly 29 percent during the last fiscal year and they now stand at a new three-year high.
All told, Texans filed 5,371 electricity-related complaints or inquiries with the Texas Public Utility Commission during the 2018 fiscal year. That marks a 28.6 percent increase from the 4,175 complaints filed during the same September-through-August time period in 2017.

In percentage terms, the year-to-year increase is the greatest in more than a decade.

In compiling this Snapshot Report, the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power reviewed electricity complaints and inquiries filed with the PUC’s Office of Customer Protection, which was established in July 1997. TCAP reviews this data on an annual basis.
This report includes fiscal-year data 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 registered with the PUC in order to gauge general consumer sentiment and to maintain a uniform methodology across the study period.
Electricity Complaints Filed with Texas PUC since 1998

Positive trend interrupted

According to the new data, Texans during the 2018 fiscal year filed more complaints and inquiries with the PUC than they had during the previous two fiscal years. The new data likewise marks an interruption of a generally downward trend in complaint filings with the PUC that began nearly a decade ago. Even still, the number of complaints registered with the PUC in FY 2018 remains below the annual average number of complaints filed during the most recent 10-year period and well below the average of complaints filed on an annual basis since Texas implemented retail electric deregulation 17 years ago.

But the 28.6 percent increase in electricity complaints between FY 2017 and FY 2018 nonetheless marks the greatest rise since the FY 2005-2006 period when they went up by 36.5 percent.

The PUC recorded increases in eight discrete categories of electric complaints in FY 2018 — a reversal from the previous fiscal year when it recorded decreases in eight discrete categories. Some of the most dramatic increases during the most recent fiscal year occurred in the categories of “billing” — with complaints in that category jumping 32.4 percent during FY 2018, from 1,776 to 2,351; and “meters” — with complaints increasing 77 percent, from 383 to 678.

Besides filing more complaints in FY 2018, Texans also received more in complaint-driven refunds, according to PUC data.  Customers received $169,133 in refunds during FY 2018, compared to $157,336 in FY 2017.

 

The average number of electricity-related complaints registered with the PUC during the state’s deregulated years is significantly higher than the average of those tracked prior to deregulation. The post-deregulated annual complaint average is 9,547.1. Before deregulation, the annual average was 1315.8. 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.

The average number of complaints and inquiries filed with the Texas PUC over the last 10 fiscal years — from 2009 through 2018 — was 8,321. In FY 2009, Texans registered 15,956 electric complaints and inquiries with the PUC. That’s nearly three times the number registered in FY 2018. The steep decline in registered electric complaints during the last decade may be explained, in part, by corresponding drops in residential electric prices [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 market.

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 & Inquiries Filed with the PUC

Key Findings

9
The PUC recorded 5,371 electricity-related complaints or inquiries during the 2018 fiscal year. That’s the most since 2015.
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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 9,547. 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.
9
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.
9
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 is unlikely that those factors alone account for the dramatically higher number of complaints observed during the early years of the deregulation law.
9
Texans who filed electricity-related complaints with the PUC received $169,133 in electric company refunds during the 2018 fiscal year. That represents a 7.5 percent increase from the $157,336 in refunds awarded during the previous fiscal year, but also 38.9 percent decline from the $276,770 awarded during FY 2016.
9

As with previous fiscal years, the plurality of complaints during FY 2018 relate to “billing” [see complaint definitions, below]. The PUC reported 43.8 percent of complaints it received were in this category during the year, as opposed to 42.5 during FY 2017. Meanwhile, the “Provision of Service” category accounted for 15.8 percent of complaints received during FY 2018, as compared to 17 percent in 2017.

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Of 10 categories of complaints monitored by the PUC, in only two categories did the agency register a decrease from the previous fiscal year. These were in the “Quality of Service” category and the “LITE UP” category. Complaints decreased from 434 to 323 in Quality of Service. There was only a single complaint registered in the LITE UP category, which includes complaints relating to a now discontinued bill assistance program. The PUC registered 12 complaints in that category during FY 2017.
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Complaints and inquiries were up in all other categories: billing, cramming, discontinuance, meters, provision of service, slamming, sub-metering and switch-hold.
9
According to the Retail Electric Provider Complaint Scorecard from the PUC (as of February 1, 2018 through July 31, 2018), retail electric providers with the worst complaint rankings were: Volt Electric Provider LP, Our Energy, Spark Energy, Frontier, LPT, Axon Power & Gas, Engle Retail (Think Energy), Acacia Energy (Brooklet Energy), PenSTar Power (formerly Freedom) and Life Energy.
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Acacia was among companies with the worst complaint rankings in some surveys posted by the PUC during the previous three years.
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According to the Retail Electric Provider Complaint Scorecard from the PUC (as of February 1, 2018 through July 31, 2018), retail electric providers with the best complaint rankings were: Alliance Power (APC Electric), American Light & Power, Source Power and Gas (Beyond Power), V247 Power, Nueces Electric Coop (NEC Retail), Xoom Energy, Texpo Energy (Y.E.P./Southwest P&L), MPS Energy Texas, TXU Energy, Iluminar Energy (Conservice Energy) and Veteran Energy.
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Alliance Power, Nueces Electric Coop (NEC Retail) and TXU were among those with the best complaint rankings in some surveys posted by the PUC during the previous three 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. Included in this category are complaints relating to Advanced Metering Systems, or AMS.

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’s 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 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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