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09/30/2013

Texas electric service complaints at lowest since deregulation

Complaints to state regulators about electricity service fell a fourth straight year to the lowest since retail electricity deregulation in Texas in 2002, a new study shows. The analysis, by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, also points out that complaints are still much higher than before deregulation. TCAP has historically been critical of deregulation, but  Randy Moravec, TCAP executive director, said the decline in complaints "comes as good news for Texas consumers, and may suggest that the market has matured since the inception of electric deregulation in 2002."

During the state's 2013 fiscal year, ended Aug. 31, there were 7,129 filed with the Public Utility Commission of Texas. That compares to 2,062 in 2001, prior to deregulation, but also about half the peak in 2009, the year after Texas power prices spiked along with natural gas costs and several small electricity providers went out of business, stranding customers in high-cost plans.  "The drop follows a downward trend in Texas electricity prices, and is linked to changes in the commodity price of natural gas — a key fuel for many electricity plants," the study notes. For its analysis, TCAP reviewed 16 years of complaint data at the PUC, the state agency that oversees the Texas electricity market.

"The data show continuing dissatisfaction relating to billing and customer service," Moravec said. "When selecting a retail electric provider, customers should use the powertochoose website to identify complaint ratings for providers in addition to their prices." Prior to deregulation, regulated utilities provided service to residential customers, and most service complaints would have been related to power outages. With deregulation, consumers bought their power from competing retail electric providers (REPs), who offered varying prices and were responsible for billing and contract terms, much like a wireless phone service. Distribution, the power lines that carry electricity to users, remains regulated.

TCAP said electricity customers can file complaints through the PUC's Office of Customer Protection at 1-888-782-8477, by email atcustomer@puc.state.tx.us, or online at http://puc.state.tx.us/consumer/complaint/Complaint.aspx

-- Jim Fuquay

 

 

 

When appropriate, the PUC will investigate such complaints, and may sanction companies if a rule violation is found.

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