Electric cooperatives have yet again risen to the top of the J.D. Power rankings, taking four of the top five spots in the annual survey measuring residential electric customer satisfaction.
Sawnee EMC, headquartered in Cumming, Georgia, was the top-ranking electric utility overall with 809 points out of a maximum 1,000. Georgia co-ops were well-represented at the top of the rankings, with Jefferson-based Jackson EMC placing second with 799 points, followed by Douglasville-based GreyStone Power Corp. (796) and Marietta-based Cobb EMC (792).
The two non-co-op utilities in the top five were SRP, a public utility in Arizona that earned the same score as GreyStone Power, and Tennessee-based EPB of Chattanooga (791).
The 2022 J.D. Power Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study is based on responses from 102,879 online interviews conducted from last January through November. The survey targeted residential customers of the nation’s 145 largest electric utilities, representing more than 105 million households. Utility performance was measured in six areas:
- Power quality and reliability
- Billing and payment
- Corporate citizenship
- Customer care
Overall residential satisfaction with electric utilities has dropped steadily since a record high of 751 in 2020. That figure fell to 748 in 2021 and 731 in 2022. Customers gave lower marks because of higher monthly electric bills and “feeling worse off financially,” according to the latest survey.
Electric utilities can improve overall customer satisfaction by as much as 72 points by providing more information on financial assistance and energy efficiency programs, said John Hazen, managing director of utility intelligence at J.D. Power.
“Utilities need to be sensitive to the financial challenges that some customers are experiencing,” Hazen said.
For Sawnee EMC, it’s the second time in three years that it’s taken home the trophy for the top spot. Even so, this year’s score of 809 was lower than the 826 it earned in 2020.
“Scores were lower across the board for all utilities, which doesn’t surprise me,” said Blake House, the co-op’s vice president of member services. “People are getting hit everywhere they turn, at the grocery store and at the gas pump.”
Last August, inflation and supply chain issues forced Sawnee EMC to raise wholesale power costs, which resulted in higher monthly bills for members.
“We delayed it as long as we could, but we were forced to increase our wholesale power cost adjustment on our bill to make up for cost increases we were experiencing,” House said. “We were lucky enough to delay that, and I think that helped. A lot of people got hit for all of 2022.”
Member satisfaction has been boosted by the co-op’s longtime emphasis on reliability by sticking to aggressive right-of-way and preventive maintenance schedules and other measures, said House. Sawnee EMC earned the highest scores among co-ops in the J.D. Power survey for power quality and reliability, price and customer care.
“You can’t be the cheapest and be the best at reliability,” he said. “You can’t have it both ways. But I think our members recognize that we have a great balance of affordable rates, extremely good reliability and second-to-none response time.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer for NRECA.