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J.D. Power: Conservation Outreach Pleases Customers

Energy conservation is good for the environment and helps consumers save money, but it also bolsters the esteem in which utilities are held by their customers, according to J.D. Power and Associates' 2008 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.

Overall customer satisfaction with gas utility companies improved considerably in 2008, largely due to efforts by utilities to promote conservation, according to J.D. Power. The study measures customer satisfaction with company image, communications, price and value, billing and payment, customer service and field service. Utilities are ranked in four geographical regions.

Although customer-reported gas bill amounts have increased by 6% since 2007, overall customer satisfaction averages 640 on a 1,000-point scale in 2008, up 12 points from the previous year (see NGI, Oct. 1, 2007).

The study finds that 48% of gas utility customers recall receiving a communication from their utility in 2008 -- up from 39% in 2007 -- and that overall satisfaction among these customers averages 672. In contrast, overall satisfaction among customers who do not recall receiving a utility communication is 62 points lower (610). In particular, customers who received information about energy conservation tips or environmental issues were significantly more satisfied than the average customer.

"In these challenging economic times, gas utility companies can positively impact customer satisfaction levels by employing energy conservation communications and initiatives that help customers lower their bills," said Alan Destribats, vice president of J.D. Power's energy practice. "Working with customers on ways to conserve energy also plays an important role in supporting the responsible use of natural resources, which is also particularly satisfying to customers."

Conservation education initiatives undertaken by utilities often are done in concert with revenue decoupling, which reduces a utility's reliance on throughput volume for revenue generation. Consumer advocates and regulators sometimes insist on conservation education before approving such decoupling programs (see NGI, April 2, 2007).

In the East region Washington Gas Light ranks highest, followed by South Jersey Gas, New Jersey Natural Gas, Bay State Gas, Public Service Electric & Gas, Elizabethtown Gas and NSTAR Gas, respectively.

CenterPoint Energy-Minnesota and MidAmerican Energy tied to rank highest in the Midwest region. MidAmerican Energy ranks highest in the midwest region for a second consecutive year. Following in the regional rankings is Louisville Gas & Electric, We Energies, Citizens Gas & Coke Utility and Aquila, respectively.

PSNC Energy ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction in the South region, followed by CPS Energy, Texas Gas Service, SCE&G, Piedmont Natural Gas, CenterPoint Energy-South and Oklahoma Natural Gas, respectively.

Northwest Natural ranks highest in the West region for a second consecutive year, followed by Southern California Gas Co.

The study is based on more than 29,000 on-line interviews conducted between September 2007 and July 2008 among residential customers of the 60 largest gas utilities across the continental United States. These utilities serve more than 48 million households.

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