Why customers give Duke Energy low marks

The Duke Energy Center as darkness falls on uptown Charlotte.
The Duke Energy Center as darkness falls on uptown Charlotte. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Duke Energy again ranks at the bottom among large electric utilities in the South in residential customer satisfaction ratings, the consumer data company J.D. Power says.

Duke utilities took three of the four bottom spots among 13 utilities rated: Duke Energy Progress, which serves the eastern Carolinas; Duke Energy Carolinas for Charlotte and the western Carolinas; and Duke Energy Florida. The results are similar to those J.D. Power reported a year ago.

Power’s Jeff Conklin said the lingering effects of a 2014 coal ash spill into the Dan River hurt Duke Energy Carolinas, which owns the power plant that spilled the ash.

“Customers hear the stories in the news media and they remember these things for awhile,” said Conklin, vice president of utilities and infrastructure practice. “It sort of lingers in the mind of the consumers for a period of time. It will recover.”

All four Duke utilities – including a sixth-place ranking in the Midwest – improved their scores from a year ago, Conklin added. Duke is among the nation’s leading utilities in the key metric of alerting customers about power outages, he said, and in the South competes with a “tough group” of high performers.

Duke acknowledges that it needs to improve. Spokeswoman Paige Layne said customers want more choices, including renewable energy, but also want low electric bills. Duke’s rates are lower than the national average and its reliability – how often the power goes off – is better, she said.

“We’ve worked to reduce costs while building a smarter, cleaner energy infrastructure,” Layne said. “We’ve improved communications and now offer customers proactive notification and updates about power outages, as well as usage alerts when we believe their energy usage for the month is trending 30 percent higher than the previous month.”

Florida Power & Light, Alabama Power and Georgia Power led the South region in J.D. Power’s rankings of large utilities in the South.

Nationally, overall satisfaction with electric providers has risen for four straight years, J.D. Power says. Average monthly bills are the lowest in 10 years and the number of brief outages has dropped.

Still, electric utilities still lag far behind other industries, including auto insurers, retail banking and airlines.

Power’s electric utility rankings measure power quality and reliability; price; billing and payment; corporate citizenship; communications and customer service in its ratings.

Ratings released in May by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, at the University of Michigan, found customer satisfaction waning for most large investor-owned utilities, including Duke.

Duke ranked near the bottom of the 26 investor-owned utilities scored. It also showed the steepest plunge in customer satisfaction among those utilities since 1994, when the surveys began.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender