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WTOP Beltway Poll: Pepco customers most dissatisfied

Monday - 8/6/2012, 6:01am  ET

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At the peak of the powerful, fast-moving storm more than a million people were without electricity in the Washington area. (Courtesy of NOAA)

WASHINGTON - Pepco customers who lost power in the wake of the June 29 derecho are much more critical of their utility's performance than customers of other major utilities who were left in the dark, according to a new WTOP Beltway Poll.

Thirty-five percent of Pepco customers who lost power say the utility performed worse than expected, and 43 percent were not satisfied with Pepco's efforts to keep them informed during the power outages and restoration efforts.

At the peak of the powerful, fast-moving storm more than a million people were without electricity in the Washington area. All of the major utilities scrambled to respond to the widespread outages.

The poll, conducted by Heart+Mind Strategies, found more than 80 percent of Dominion Virginia Power and Baltimore Gas and Electric customers who lost power felt their utility performed as expected or better with respect to getting the lights back on. But only 65 percent of Pepco customers said they felt the utility met or exceeded expectations.

Pepco customers who never lost power are actually more critical of the utility's performance, with only 21 percent saying Pepco exceeded their expectations in terms of restoring power.

Expectations for getting the juice back on were high. Ninety-one percent of Dominion Virginia Power customers said they believed their utility should have been able to fully restore power in two days or less. The figure for BGE was 72 percent, and it was 83 percent for Pepco.

"Events like the June 29 derecho become defining reputational moments for electric utilities," says Andrew Cober of Heart+Mind Strategies.

"Most customers rarely give their electric utility a passing thought, except perhaps once a month when their bill comes due.

"When major events occur that fundamentally impact the lives of the customer, it becomes a critical opportunity for utilities to step forward, not just with respect to restoration performance, but by engaging, informing, and setting expectations with customers," he says.

Pepco customers were the least satisfied with communication from their utility as restoration efforts continued. Fifty-seven percent report they were satisfied with those efforts.

By comparison, 88 percent of BGE customers were satisfied, as were 77 percent of Dominion Virginia Power customers.

Sixty-two percent of those surveyed say they lost power. Among those who lost power, 34 percent were without electricity for three to six days. Forty-six percent of Pepco customers say they lost power for that long, while the figure was 24 percent for Dominion Virginia Power and 21 percent for BGE.

In a self-assessment released last month, Pepco said it "mobilized quickly" to restore power to homes and businesses left without power, though it also acknowledged problems with computer software that affected calls for service and information related to restoration.

The WTOP Beltway Poll also asked Washington area residents about their cellphone service during the storm.

Sixty-nine percent of Virginia residents say they were satisfied with their cell service, compared to 82 percent in D.C. and 75 percent in Maryland. Twenty-five percent of Virginia residents say they were not satisfied with their service.

The margin of effort for the poll is 4.17 percent.

Editor's Note: The D.C. metro phone survey was conducted among 550 adults age 18 and over, between July 26 and July 29, 2012. This included representative samples of 200 people in Virginia (Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania, Stafford) 250 in Maryland (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George's and 100 in D.C.

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WTOP's Mitchell Miller contributed to this report. Follow Mitch and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)