Janine
Migden-Ostrander,
Consumers Counsel
 
Columbus, OH, U.S.A. --- (METERING.COM) --- June 11, 2007 – The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) and several consumer groups are recommending improvements to service reliability, stronger enforcement of rules, better consumer protections and mandating public reporting processes for all electric utilities in Ohio. The OCC is a residential utility consumer advocate, representing the interests of 4.5 million households in proceedings before state and federal regulators and in the courts and providing information to consumers about their electric, natural gas, telephone and water services.

The proposals have been filed as part of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s (PUCO) review of Ohio’s Electric Service and Safety Standards. Electric utilities must follow these rules when providing service to customers.

The OCC wants to ensure that all electric utilities make service reliability a priority. By implementing a consistent method that specifies performance standards in these rules, utilities can be held accountable. Additional standards for vegetation management are proposed, including a four-year tree trimming cycle, which also will improve reliability statewide.

"Maintaining electric service for all consumers throughout Ohio is very important," said Janine Migden-Ostrander, Consumers’ Counsel. "We have researched the best practices used in several states and believe that by using some of these methods, reliability will be improved and outages can be limited."

All of these service performance standards should be made available to the public. The OCC believes that customers have the right to receive the adequate and reliable service they are paying for in their rates.

In addition to addressing performance standards for reliability, the OCC recommended several other modifications to improve consumer protections which include:

  • Better customer service standards, including initiation of service on the next business day, the option to speak with a representative without delay and easy access to bilingual customer service representatives.
  • Better protection of sensitive customer information like social security numbers and account-specific information.
  • Bill credits to customers who experience delays in starting service, sustained outages due to lack of maintenance by the utility, or who experience more than three momentary outages in any month due to a utility’s inadequate trimming of trees and vegetation management.
  • An annual customer satisfaction survey to identify customer perception and to identify appropriate improvements. 
  • Reduce charges customers pay to make payments at an authorized agent in their community. 
  • Customers on a medical or life-support system should be provided more protections in the event of an outage, including the notification of family members or others and prioritized restoration. 
  • Offering advanced metering programs for any residential customers who want to better manage their electric use and potentially save money.
  • Eliminate the ambiguity in the charges that customers pay to expand an electric distribution facility.

These improvements should have stronger enforcement standards in order to have the best benefit for consumers. These changes to the electric service and safety standards would give the PUCO the ability to propose corrective action or penalties should a violation be discovered.