Electricity costs are up, but not as high as they likely will go and satisfaction with electric utility providers is down, but probably not as low as it will go.

Electric utility customers in 39 out of 42 states surveyed report their average monthly electric bill is $104, up 18 percent from 2000. Sixty-one percent expect to see higher electric bills in 2002, increasing an average of 23 percent according to "2001 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study," conducted by Agoura Hills, CA-based J.D. Power and Associates.

Powers' independently funded and conducted electric utility satisfaction study is based on 25,501 interviews with residential customers of the 71 largest electric utilities in the nation. The responses were collected through telephone interviews during March, April and May of 2001.

"Their comments pushed our study's nationwide utility industry price and value measurement down an astounding 10 points (from 101 to 91), compared to the 2000 study," said Jeffrey Conklin, senior director Electric Utilities Practice at J.D. Power, a marketing information services firm that tallies consumer responses to measure the quality and satisfaction of a variety of good and services.

However, Powers said gains reported in key elements of overall satisfaction, including power quality and reliability, billing and payment, and customer service kept satisfaction from dropping more than 2 points, from 101 in 2000 to 99 in 2001.

Consumers nevertheless voiced a desire to switch utility companies, indicating eroding consumer loyalty. Despite the set backs in areas where deregulation has occurred, dissatisfaction with utility companies also came with support for retail competition.

Deregulating and restructuring utility systems are steps designed to give consumers a choice in utility providers, create a competitive market place and, hopefully, lower utility bills.

Some two dozen states have enacted legislation to restructure utility systems, but the American Association of Retired People (AARP) says early results from some of those states indicate consumers may achieve only modest savings -- or pay even more, as is the case in California.

"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 at J.D. Power and Associates.

Twenty-one percent of customers outside of California claim they "definitely will switch" or "probably will switch" their electricity provider -- up from 17 percent in 2000. Seven out of 10 respondents strongly agree or somewhat agree 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 support competition.

The study also reveals that 75 percent of respondents outside of California strongly agree or somewhat agree with the statement "There truly is enough power to supply all of the electricity needs of customers in my area."

Only 49 percent of Californians think there is enough power supply. Customers in Idaho and Washington also are concerned about power supplies, while customers in Mississippi, Oklahoma and North Carolina are positive about adequate power supplies.

Consumers surveyed in the J.D. Power's study also named their favorite electricity provider based on customer satisfaction.

The best of the best were:

  • Eastern Region: PPL Utilities, serving eastern Pennsylvania
  • Midwestern Region: Omaha Public Power District, serving Nebraska
  • Southern Region: Southern Company, serving southern states
  • Western Region: Tucson Electric Power, serving Arizona area residents
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