Customer complaints about deregulation still robust

Happiness is always relative, and when it comes to electricity deregulation, it looks like Texans are becoming more comfortable with the system.

Electric consumer complaints are at a low since deregulation started in 2002. Complaints dropped nearly 17 percent since last year and more than 50 percent in the last four years, according to a study by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power. The organization analyzed complaints made to the state Public Utility Commission.

The drop shows that Texans are likely less frustrated with how deregulation works and enjoying the effect of lower natural gas prices on electricity rates, the Texas Coalition said.

But the statistics fall short of being a ringing endorsement of deregulation – customers are still sending in about 11,000 complaints a year, about four times higher than the 1,300 or so complaints a year prior to deregulation.

While some of the growth in complaints is the result of population growth and the ability to send it complaints over the internet, The Texas Coalition attributes a portion of the higher numbers to frustrations some customers have in dealing with a range of retailers.

The study comes just days before the Public Utility Commission will hold a public meeting on October 8 to discuss whether the electricity market should be altered to ensure reliability of the grid.

DPI Energy, Potentia Energy and Acacia Energy were the retailers had most complaints in the last six months, while Glacial, Nueces Electric Cooperative and TXU Energy had least complaints.

Billing issues topped the discontentment list, making up about 40 percent of all letters in 2013.

About 16 percent of customers complained about how their service was provided, followed by discontinuance issues, which was the source of ire for about 15 percent of the correspondence.

More than 130 customers complained about having holds against their accounts, barring them from the retail electricity market, because of payment issues.

And despite those who believe that complaining doesn’t pay, customers who filed complaints with the Public Utility Commission in 2013 received nearly $500,000 in refunds.