Friday, May 25, 2018
Business

Among Duke Energy Florida's goals, better service is nowhere to be found

Customers can't stand Duke Energy, for good reason.

Just this past week, there was Duke claiming — with a straight face — to be championing the cause of poor people as it asked state regulators to gut energy-efficiency standards. This comes as other states elevate their own goals. Not part of Duke's presentation: It makes money generating power, not saving it.

Meanwhile, Duke continues to soak its Florida customers with higher rates to help pay for the nuclear plant it ruined and another it planned but never built.

In return, Duke charges its Florida customers $125 for 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity while neighboring Florida Power & Light to the south charges $102 — nearly 20 percent less.

How can a monopoly like Duke Energy Florida possibly shove all these uncompetitive business practices down the throats of captive Floridians and deliver the worst-rated residential service of any large utility operating in the entire state?

Yet that's what we're stuck with. Unproductive strategies and bottom-of-the-barrel service add up to lousy corporate credibility. What we really need from Duke is a forward-thinking energy policy, lower rates and — good grief — better service.

Duke Energy Florida this month was rated the lowest in 2014 residential customer satisfaction in the Sunshine State — in fact, in the entire southeastern United States — when compared with similar-sized power providers like the higher-ranked Florida Power & Light or even less-than-stellar Tampa Electric.

The latest survey results mirror those of recent years, when Duke also came in last in Florida service.

Such are the findings of J.D. Power's annual surveys of the country's major utilities ranked by residential customer satisfaction. The surveys measure customer satisfaction with electric utility companies by examining six factors: power quality and reliability; price; billing and payment; corporate citizenship; communications; and customer service.

Last year, Duke Energy Florida came in last in the J.D. Power satisfaction survey with a score of 620 out of a possible 1,000. Back then, we asked Duke what it thought about its ranking.

The company looked for a silver lining: "While we are disappointed in the overall ranking, the 2013 score is the highest J.D. Power score we have received in the last five years."

So much for that upward trend.

This year, Duke Energy's last-place score in Florida is 610, a drop of 10 points from 2013. The most recent score is even lower than the 611 received by Progress Energy Florida in 2012, shortly before Duke Energy bought its parent company.

This year's survey polled residential customers of the 138 largest electric utility brands across the country. J.D. Power noted that overall satisfaction among electric utility residential customers "increased substantially in 2014" to an average score of 647.

So Duke, why another last-place finish in Florida?

Does the power company simply not want to provide better service? Or is it somehow incapable of doing so?

Duke is now the largest power company in America and certainly enjoys reminding everybody of that fact — especially all those pesky state legislators grubbing for campaign contributions in apparent exchange for Duke's unconditional support.

A company worth $50 billion with nearly 28,000 employees surely could improve its customer service if it really wanted to.

As a monopoly provider of electricity, Duke faces no direct competitor on its turf in the greater Tampa Bay area and across its west-central Florida market. Nobody is allowed to try to offer better service or cheaper electric rates.

Nobody should possess a monopoly without accountability.

When was the last time the Public Service Commission ever challenged Duke Energy for charging nearly 20 percent more for electricity than FPL charges in South Florida?

When was the last time the PSC seriously criticized Duke for delivering years of inferior service to residential customers in Florida?

The answer to both questions: never.

No wonder Duke feels so untouchable in this pushover state.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @VentureTampaBay.

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