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Consumers complain about power prices; more would switch, poll finds

Electric utility customers complained of rising prices but were happier with their utilities’ reliability, compared to past surveys, said J.D. Power & Associates, Agoura Hills, Calif., in its annual survey.

More consumers also said they would switch suppliers if given the chance than is past polls.

Customers reported their average monthly electric bill was $104, up 18% from 2000. More than half of all respondents expected electric bills in 2002 to rise an average 23%.

Consumer comments pushed the study’s nationwide utility industry price and value measurement down an “astounding” 10 points — to 91 from 101 — compared to the 2000 study, said Jeffrey Conklin, senior director, electric utilities practice.

Respondents in 39 of 42 states surveyed strongly criticized their electric utility provider on all aspects of price and value, according to the 2001 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.

Beyond pricing issues, residential customer satisfaction with electric utility operational performance improved again in 2001, according to the survey. Significant industrywide gains were reported in overall satisfaction, including power quality and reliability, billing and payment, and customer service. As a result of these gains, overall satisfaction fell only 2 points to 99 points from 101 points.

“With the awareness of the California power crisis relatively high, and energy prices expected to increase, consumer loyalty is eroding and support for retail competition is growing,” said Al Destribats, executive director, utility and telecommunication practices.

Twenty-one percent of customers outside of California claimed they “definitely will switch” or “probably will switch” their electricity provider, up from 17% in 2000. Seven of 10 respondents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, “My state should support competition in the electric utility industry.”

New Hampshire customers most favored competition, along with customers in other eastern states such as New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. Customers in Texas also strongly supported competition.

The study also revealed 75% of respondents outside California strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement, “There truly is enough power to supply all of the electricity needs of customers in my area.”

Just 49% of Californians think there is enough power supply. Customers in Idaho and Washington also were concerned about power supplies, while customers in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and North Carolina felt power supplies were adequate.

Despite those varied opinions, the poll found most customers favored building more power plants. One-half of respondents outside of California supported building more power plants when faced with shortages, while 38% favored cutting back on electricity consumption.

Even in California, 57% supported building more power plants and 33% wanted to conserve energy.