PUC COMPLAINT DATA
A Snapshot Report
The number of electricity-related complaints filed with Texas regulators increased for the second year in a row and now stands at a new four-year high, according to a long-term analysis of Public Utility Commission data.
All told, Texans filed 5,508 electricity-related complaints or inquiries with the Texas Public Utility Commission during the 2019 fiscal year. That marks a 2.6 percent increase from the 5,371 filed during the previous fiscal year and a 31.9 percent increase from the 4,175 filed in FY 2017.
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.
Customer Complaints Up Again
According to the new data, Texans during the 2019 fiscal year filed more complaints and inquiries with the PUC than they had during each of the previous three fiscal years. Even still, the number of complaints registered with the PUC during FY 2019 remains below the annual average of complaints filed during the most recent 10-year period — 7,276 — and well below the average of 9,322 complaints filed on an annual basis since Texas implemented retail electric deregulation 18 years ago.
The PUC recorded increases in six discrete categories of electric complaints from FY 2018 to FY 2019 and decreases in three discrete categories. In percentage terms, the most dramatic increases occurred in the “Switch-Hold,” and “Quality of Service” categories. Switch Hold complaints jumped 54.1 percent during FY 2019 from the previous year, and Quality of Service complaints jumped 50.2 percent from the previous fiscal year. Descriptions of those categories of complaints and others appear at the bottom of this report.
Far and away, Texans filed more complaints against competitive Retail Electric Providers in the state’s deregulated retail electric market than they did against any other category of electric company. The PUC registered 3,903 complaints against competitive providers — or more than 7 in 10. By contrast, Texans registered 1,046 complaints against regulated transmission and distribution providers, 343 against investor-owned utilities, 121 against electric cooperatives, utilities and 93 against other sorts of entities.
Texans also received more in complaint-driven refunds during FY 2019, as compared to FY 2018. According to PUC data, customers received $258,290 in refunds during FY 2019, as compared to $169,133 during FY 2018 and $157,336 in FY 2017. The FY 2019 figure represents a 52 percent increase from FY 2018 and a 64 percent increase from 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 9,322.7. Before deregulation, the annual average was 1,315.8. 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 2010 through 2019 — was 7,276.4. That average is about 32.1 percent greater than the complaints registered in FY 2019. The steep decline over this longer 10-year look back 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 contributed to a drop in complaints since 2002, which was the first year of the state’s deregulated retail market system.
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
The PUC recorded 5,508 electricity-related complaints or inquiries during the 2019 fiscal year. That’s the most since 2015.
The average number of electricity-related complaints or inquiries filed on an annual basis since the retail electric deregulation law took effect is 9322. 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.
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 high number of complaints observed during the early years of the deregulation law.
Texans who filed electricity-related complaints with the PUC received $258,290 in electric company refunds during the 2019 fiscal year. That represents a 52 percent increase from the $169,133 in refunds awarded during the previous fiscal year.
As with previous fiscal years, the plurality of complaints during FY 2019 relate to “billing” [see complaint definitions, below]. The PUC reported 46 percent of complaints it received were in this category during the year, as opposed to 43.8 during FY 2018. Meanwhile the “Provision of Service” category accounted for 17.3 percent of complaints received during FY 2019, as compared to 15.8 percent in 2018.
Of 10 categories of complaints monitored by the PUC, in only three categories did the agency register a decrease from the previous fiscal year. These were in the “cramming”, “meters” and “sub-metering” categories. Complaints decreased from 678 to 346 in the meters category, from 139 to 44 in the “sub-Metering” category and from 44 to 22 in the “cramming” category.
Complaints and inquiries were up in all other categories: billing, discontinuance, provision of service, quality of service, slamming and switch-hold. Percentage wise, the category with the biggest year-to-year rise was switch-hold, which jumped from 35 to 53, or 51.4 percent.
During the 2019 fiscal year, the PUC logged at least 20 complaints relating to unwanted telephone solicitations from retail electric providers or other electric service companies. The precise number, however, may be far greater. The PUC logged 4,659 telephone solicitation complaints during FY 2019, and almost half were associated with “unknown” solicitors. Some may have been electric companies.
According to the Retail Electric Provider Complaint Scorecard from the PUC (as of March 1, 2019 through August 31, 2019), retail electric providers with the highest complaint rates were: Trieagle Energy, Power House Energy, Fulcrum Retail Energy, Amigo Energy, Tara Energy, Pulse Power, Energy To Go, 174 Power Global Retail Texas, Chariot Energy, Power of Texas Holdings, Mega Energy, Texans Energy and LPT SP.
According to the Retail Electric Provider Complaint Scorecard from the PUC (as of March 1, 2018 through August 31, 2018), retail electric providers with the lowest compliant rates were: Pogo Energy, Volt Energy, V247 Power, Nueces Electric Cooperative, Texpo Power (Y.E.P./Southwest P&L), Southwest P&L, Champion Energy Services, Windrose Power and Gas, Summer Energy and Pronto Power.
V247 Power and Texpo Energy (Y.E.P./Southwest P&L) were among those with the lowest compliant rates in at least one survey last year.
How to Lodge a Complaint with the PUC
The Office of Customer Protection can be reached by calling 1-888-782-8477, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at http://puc.state.tx.us/consumer/complaint/Complaint.aspx.
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.