Reality Check

Reality Check

Vets the truthfulness of claims and measures the efficacy of public policy

PG&E Not Safest, Most Reliable Utility, But Customer Satisfaction is Improving

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    NEWSLETTERS

    In this edition of Reality Check, Sam Brock examines PG&E claims in its advertisements that the utility is making services "safer" and "more reliable." (Published Thursday, May 29, 2014)

    For many, the San Bruno PG&E pipe explosion seems like something that happened yesterday. But it's been more than three years, and while San Bruno community is still rebuilding, so too is PG&E in terms of its public image among its customers.

    Part and parcel to that effort is a public relations campaign that features a variety of TV commercials with PG&E employees talking about their commitment to safety and reliability, as well as an active social media presence broadcasting the same message.

    NBC Bay Area decided to look at where PG&E currently ranks among other large utility companies, especially in terms of safety and reliability. Is it among the best, somewhere in between or at the bottom?

    The short answer is that it's below the national average and near the bottom.

    J.D. Power and Associates has been studying customer satisfaction for 15 years, and their gas utility surveys – for both residential and business customers – include questions about safety and reliability. In their most recent residential survey, PG&E's ranking was six out of the nine large utilities in the West Coast region. Among business customers, PG&E ranked near the end of the pack – 9th out of the 10 large West Coast utilities.

    As J.D. Power’s Senior Energy Director, Andrew Heath, explained, “the ability of the utility to keep the lights on and provide reliable electric supply is the single greatest factor influencing overall satisfaction.”

    Heath went on to say that despite being ranked near the bottom in both the residential and business survey, “the latest studies we’ve got, Pacific Gas and Electric is actually returning some of the highest scores we’ve seen in terms of customer feedback in the last 6 years.”

    Why might this be? PG&E says it’s because of the investments they made – improving its entire system by replacing a countless pipes, installing automated valves, and developing a control center that allows the utility to actively monitor the more than 70,000 square mile area it provides gas and electricity.

    PG&E spokesperson Greg Snapper said, “after the San Bruno accident, there were a lot of really apparent changes that needed to take place. And we’ve been on that journey over the last three-and-a-half years to make that happen.”

    While PG&E infrastructure investments may be paying off, their public relations campaign about their investments may also be playing a role in changing customer reviews. Heath pointed out that J.D. Power’s survey asks “both business and residential customers, ‘Are you aware of the work that your local utility is doing to improve safety?’ And Pacific Gas and Electric actually has the highest response rates in the nation to that question.”