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Long Island

PSEG customer satisfaction rating declines

The first fleet of PSEG logo service trucks

The first fleet of PSEG logo service trucks come out from the service yard to begin work under the new utility at National Grid in Hicksville on Jan. 1, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

PSEG received its lowest score ever in a newly released survey of customer satisfaction that includes three months of the utility's management of the Long Island electric grid.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index, an annual national survey of consumers in various industries, reported yesterday that PSEG scored 70 out of a potential 100 points, a 5.4 percent drop from the prior year and the lowest score PSEG has received since the survey began 20 years ago. PSEG tied for second to last among 25 top privately owned utilities and was 19th in 2013.

When it was listed on its own last year, the Long Island Power Authority, then managed by National Grid, scored a 43, the lowest of any company of any type ever registered in the survey's history.

Under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's LIPA Reform Act, PSEG Long Island took over the electric grid from National Grid in January and has promised to make LIPA among the nation's highest-ranked utilities within five years.

David VanAmburg, managing director of ACSI, said rising energy costs tied to harsh winter weather generally affected most utilities' scores in the survey. But he pointed to LIPA's record-low score when it was managed by National Grid as likely contributing to the decline.

"This is definitely a two-decade low [for PSEG], and one would suspect that taking on LIPA is going to play some role there," he said.

The survey takers interviewed about 250 customers in PSEG service territories from October through the end of March. Since PSEG didn't take on the LIPA territory until January, only about a quarter of the surveys are of Long Island customers.

PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said the utility took exception to the survey's combining the Long Island and New Jersey service territories, saying it was an "apples to oranges" comparison.

Nevertheless, he said, PSEG takes customer satisfaction "very seriously, and we are working every day to improve on the customer satisfaction ratings."

VanAmburg said a survey that included Long Island during the full six-month period would likely have lowered PSEG's score.

Dominick Speziale, a science teacher from Hewlett, wasn't called for the survey, but said that if he had been, the utility would not have scored well. Since taking over in January, he said, PSEG has raised his previously fixed balanced billing amount -- forcing him to amass a surplus of $355.71 credit -- threatened to shut off his power in March, charged him a $1.88 late fee despite the credit, then last month lowered his balanced bill to $22 a month for the next four months of the billing cycle.

"How can you be satisfied?" he said. "These guys don't even know how to bill a bill."

Since taking over in January, PSEG said it has instituted changes intended to improve customer satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of outages, including an improved automated telephone system and more aggressive tree trimming. But it also has ruffled feathers by taking over LIPA transmission projects, installing bigger poles and high-voltage lines in East Hampton and Port Washington that have led to protests.

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