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Report: Electric Deregulation Drives Complaints

Texans are growing more satisfied with their electricity providers, but they still complain far more than they did before the state deregulated its power market, according to a new report.


Texans are growing more satisfied with their electricity providers, but they are griping far more than they did before the state deregulated its power market, according to a report released Monday.

The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, a group of cities and other local governments, analyzed 16 years of consumer complaints filed with the state’s Public Utility Commission. The complaints — which cover a range of issues including those related to billing, service and meters — have dwindled in each of the past four years. That trend may indicate that Texans are getting used to a new electricity market with more choices, the group said, although falling electricity prices, spurred by low-priced natural gas, may have also helped drive that trend.

Longer-term data, however, shows that Texans are complaining far more than they did before 2002, when the state allowed consumers to choose their power providers.  That trend, the group said, signals lingering problems in the market and the possibility that some consumers aren’t fully weighing their options.

A PUC website called Power to Choose allows consumers to compare companies’ prices and complaint history. 

In 2009, the PUC logged nearly 16,000 complaints, and that number fell to about 7,100 this year, according to the analysis. Regulators received more than 2,000 complaints in 2001. The total ballooned to more than 8,500 the next year, before doubling in 2003.  

“The decline in customer complaints comes as good news for Texas consumers, and may suggest that the market has matured since the inception of electric deregulation,” Randy Moravec, the coalition’s executive director, said in a statement. “However, Texans still file many more complaints today than they filed prior to electric competition.” 

John Fainter, president and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, said factors other than deregulation may have inflated the numbers. Those include the state’s population boom and the PUC’s shift to a much easier online complaint filing process. The coalition acknowledged those trends, but said they alone could not explain rapid the spike in complaints following deregulation.  

This year, some 40 percent of complaints were related to billing, while service provision and disconnections combined for about 31 percent. Close to 2 percent dealt with “switch-holds,” the controversial process the PUC approved in 2010 that prevent customers who are behind on their payments from switching to new providers until they settle their bills.

DPI Energy, Potentia Energy and Acacia Energy drew the highest complaint rates in 2013, according to the report.  Glacial Energy, Nueces Electric Cooperative and TXU Energy had the lowest complaint rates.

The report examined only complaints filed with regulators. Researchers did not tally those sent only to the utilities. 

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/09/30/report-electric-deregulation-drives-complaints/.

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