Complaints to state regulators about electricity service fell for a fourth straight year to the lowest since deregulation started in 2002, a study says.The analysis, by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, also says complaints are still much higher than before deregulation, when households were served only by regulated utilities in their regional markets.The coalition has historically been critical of deregulation, but Executive Director Randy Moravec 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, which ended Aug. 31, there were 7,129 complaints about electricity service issues filed with the Public Utility Commission of Texas in Austin. That compares with 2,062 in 2001, before deregulation, but it’s also about half the peak in 2009.That was the year after Texas power prices spiked along with natural gas costs, driving several small electricity providers out of business. Many of their former customers became stranded in high-cost plans as a result.The decline in the 2013 fiscal year “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, the coalition reviewed 16 years of complaint data at the PUC, the 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.”With deregulation, consumers started buying their power from competing retail electric providers, which offer varying prices and contract terms, and are responsible for billing and other customer service. The power distribution system, the power lines that carry electricity to users, remains regulated.
Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552 Twitter: @jimfuquay