Texas has received the fewest number of public complaints about electricity service since it deregulated most of its electric market in 2002, advocacy group said Thursday.
According to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, a nonprofit that advocates for low electricity prices, Texans filed 4,835 electricity-related complaints or inquiries to the state Public Utility Commission in fiscal year 2016, down from 6,973 grievances in fiscal year 2015. This continues a trend of decreases since 2002, after the state deregulated its retail electric market.
Julia Rathgeber, president and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, said many factors have contributed to fewer complaints at the PUC.
"First, the retail market is maturing, and customers are more comfortable with the process of shopping for electricity," Rathgeber said. "Second, retail electricity prices have remained stable over the last couple of years, so customers haven’t had too many surprises in their electric bills. And third, many electric companies have taken part in significant social media outreach to resolve customer complaints more directly."
The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power's report shows a nearly 31 percent decline from last year — among the steepest dips since deregulation. The report shows a decrease in complaints in nine out of 10 categories, including meter complaints, billing complaints and "switch-holds," the practice of blocking residential electric service.
Jay Doegey, the coalition's executive director, said the report shows how Texans are becoming increasingly satisfied with the current market.
“This upbeat report shows complaints have dropped precipitously since the early years of electric deregulation,” said Doegey. “It appears that Texans are becoming more comfortable with their electricity providers and less frustrated with bad actors in the market. This is very positive news.”
But the analysis, which has reviewed electricity complaints and inquiries for each fiscal year since 1998, still shows Texans file far more complaints than they did before 2002. In 2001, regulators received 2,062 complaints, the highest number since 1998. The number ballooned to 17,250 in 2003.
Another highlight of this fiscal year's report shows an increase in complaints in only one category: "quality of service." The number increased from 372 in fiscal 2015 to 573, nearly a 54 percent increase.
Last year, the same report highlighted a dramatic increase in complaints against Dallas-based Sharyland Utilities, which were so numerous that "the PUC had opened a special proceeding that resulted in a slight rate decrease for some customers." But this fiscal year, consumer complaints decreased from 437 to 122.
Texans can file complaint data on the PUC website Power to Choose and compare companies' prices and complaint history. On the site, companies are assigned weighted complaint rankings, measured by the number of costumers a company serves and the number of complaints it receives.
According to these recent weighted complaints from the PUC from March 1 to Aug. 31, retail electric providers with the worst complaint rankings included Hino Electric, Acacia Energy, Breeze and Axon Power & Gas LLC.
Hino and Acacia also had the highest complaint ratings last year.
Read more on the Tribune's related coverage:
- Texas will no longer be able to help poor families pay their electricity bills now that Lite-Up Texas, a program that offered discounts to low-income families, has run out of money.
- Donna Nelson, chair of the Texas Public Utility Commission, issued a warning to companies that attempt to trick into buying electricity plans that are more expensive than they appear.