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Businesses rank Duke Energy Florida last in satisfaction survey

A “pitchfork protest” was held by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy outside of Duke Energy Florida headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg on Oct. 29 protesting the utility’s billing practices.

DIRK SHADD | Times

A “pitchfork protest” was held by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy outside of Duke Energy Florida headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg on Oct. 29 protesting the utility’s billing practices.

Duke Energy Florida ranked last this week in a J.D. Power satisfaction survey of business customers in the South.

Out of 11 power companies on the list for the region, Duke Energy Florida finished last — the same ranking the utility has had for the past three surveys.

"These results are a clear indication that we need to do more to better understand and meet our customers' expectations, and we are committed to doing that," said Sterling Ivey, a Duke spokesman.

"Last year we began making changes in our operations to improve power reliability and customer service, and we will continue that work this year and beyond."

In a news release about the survey, J.D. Power said utilities with a poor ranking in past surveys said they were working on their customer service.

"Many electric utilities that have traditionally ranked at the low end of the overall index now include in their business goals initiatives that are aimed at improving customer satisfaction," said Andrew Heath, director of the energy practice at J.D. Power. "When utilities highly satisfy (their) customer base, there is a quantifiable positive impact on profitability and credit ratings for the utility."

In Florida, Duke has become a target of criticism after a series of mishaps reported by the Tampa Bay Times, including the closing of the Crystal River nuclear plant after a botched upgrade project cracked the reactor's 42-inch-thick concrete containment building.

In addition, Duke canceled the proposed Levy County nuclear plant after collecting money from customers in advance of the facility producing any electricity. The two nuclear projects are costing customers more than $3 billion but are not delivering a single kilowatt of power.

The utility later proceeded to raise deposit fees on businesses, sometimes tripling deposits. Then it came to light that churches and various other businesses have been charged higher rates than necessary.

It has all prompted a series of legislative proposals to reform how utilities are regulated.

"They're not offering the customer service that they used to in the state," said Mike Handley, a former employee of the utility when it was Florida Power Corp. Handley now works for the utility's business customers to ensure that the power company is dealing fairly with them.

"They make it very difficult for the business customers," Handley said. "Many businesses are not viewing this area as someplace they want to be."

Contact Ivan Penn at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow @Consumers_Edge.

Businesses rank Duke Energy Florida last in satisfaction survey 01/15/15 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2015 7:58pm]
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