LIPA ranks last in customer satisfaction

A new survey shows LIPA ratepayers are among A new survey shows LIPA ratepayers are among the least satisfied customers. Photo Credit: Ed Betz, 2011

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The Long Island Power Authority dropped to dead last in customer satisfaction among major U.S. utilities in a newly released survey by J.D. Power and Associates, which found that 2011 storms irked electric customers nationwide.

LIPA's score of 552 out of 1,000 was the lowest of 126 utilities surveyed, and represented a 30-point drop from the 582 LIPA received last year.

The low ranking comes amid a series of action plans enacted by LIPA and its contractor, National Grid, in the wake of plummeting customer satisfaction ratings in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, which knocked out power to about half of LIPA's customer base.

In a statement, LIPA said, "While we are disappointed with the results and recognize the need to improve," the authority has enacted three rate reductions in 2012, received recognition for solar programs and approved a shift to a new business model focusing more on the consumer, which starts in 2014.

The survey interviewed more than 100,000 residential electric customers nationally between July 2011 and May 2012.

Overall, J.D. Power said, residential customer satisfaction with all electric utility companies dropped slightly in the 2012 survey, averaging 625 points from 628 a year ago. Because of storm impacts, satisfaction with power quality and reliability dropped 13 points on average nationally. Generally lower bills led U.S. customers to rate utilities 10 points higher on the price satisfaction portion of the survey compared with a year ago.

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Chris Oberle, senior director of the energy and utility practice at J.D. Power, said weather played a big role in the satisfaction declines.

One point on which LIPA has repeatedly been shown to have come up short during Irene was in notifying customers of when their outages would be restored. LIPA had instituted a series of new online and telephone notification systems in advance of Irene, but the systems largely failed during the storm.

A recent Public Service Commission-led review of LIPA's response to Irene showed the utility lacked the technical capability to keep customers in the loop, and that it had failed to implement recommendations in a 2006 LIPA-funded study on its outage-notification system and tree-trimming practices.

J.D. Power's study found 82 percent of customers prefer to be contacted "proactively" during outages with information and updates, and that those utilities that did so electronically got higher scores from customers. "The more information electric utilities proactively provide during an outage, the higher customer satisfaction will likely be," Oberle said. "Customers value being kept up to date and want to resume their lives as quickly as possible."

Since Irene, LIPA has awarded the contract to manage the Long Island electric grid to PSEG of New Jersey. National Grid, which, with predecessors KeySpan and Long Island Lighting Co., has managed the grid for decades, holds the contract until Dec. 31, 2013.

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