PUC COMPLAINT DATAA Snapshot Report
In percentage terms, the year-to-year increase is the greatest in more than a decade.
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
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.
How to Lodge a Complaint with the PUC
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.