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PSEG LI raises customer satisfaction score, but is still in last place

A PSEG Long Island crew performs work on

A PSEG Long Island crew performs work on Montauk Highway in West Islip on July 10, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Long Island's electric utility remains dead last in the country among major electric companies in residential customer satisfaction, but PSEG Long Island has managed to increase last year's score by 10 percent, according to a J.D. Power survey to be released Wednesday.

PSEG scored 584 out of a total 1,000 points in the survey, which reviews factors such as power quality, billing, affordability and communications. PSEG's score was 52 points higher than the combined PSEG and LIPA scored in the 2013 survey. When LIPA was on its own in 2013, it scored 519.

Daniel Eichhorn, vice president of customer services at PSEG, said the figures showed PSEG was the most improved among a list of utilities with more than 750,000 customers, followed by Con Edison.

He called the numbers and the overall improvement "great news."

"The numbers tell us we're very focused on customer satisfaction, we are trying to create a better customer experience, to make it easier to do business with us, and improve reliability."

But one critic said PSEG needs to do a lot better.

"We are paying a lot more money in rates and management fees; we should have gotten a lot more performance," said Sheldon Sackstein, chairman of the Suffolk Legislature's Energy Utility Oversight Committee. PSEG has asked for a 3.2 percent rate increase starting next year, when its contractually negotiated management fee will nearly double to $73 million.

Sackstein said he wants PSEG Long Island to get a number closer to its sister company, PSE&G, the New Jersey utility, which ranked second among eastern utilities with a score of 680. "Give us at least the same result here on Long Island," he said.

Eichhorn acknowledged there was much work to do, evidenced by the fact that PSEG Long Island remains the lowest-ranked utility in the nation, as LIPA had been for the past several years.

"We started off always saying we had a five-year improvement plan," Eichhorn said. "You don't buy a fixer-upper and do all of your repairs in the first year."

But even while PSEG has bolstered LIPA's storm response and automated call center, among other things, the past year has presented challenges. The company has faced a backlash for large-pole transmission projects from Port Washington to East Hampton, and has endured criticism for scattered overcharges and estimated billing mistakes.

PSEG will receive an incentive award for exceeding a score of 565 required under its contract with LIPA. Next year's score must reach 588 to receive the incentive pay.

Among other eastern utilities, Con Edison ranked fourth, with a score of 673, while National Grid's upstate electric utility scored 635.

PSEG earlier this year had experienced a drop in its J.D. Power quarterly score. The survey is taken over four "waves." From a high of 597 in mid-2014, the company saw its score drop to 584 and then 576 through the first three waves. The most recent wave came in at 580, an increase of 4 points.

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