The energy utilities sector should give the people what they want: More green initiatives

Do you know what the energy utilities sector needs? A spark. Badly.

Energy utilities suffered a sector-wide plunge in customer satisfaction, falling 2.7 percent to an ACSI score of 73.2 (out of 100), per our latest Energy Utilities Report.

Despite record-high U.S. natural gas production and exponential growth in electricity generation from renewable energy sources, all three categories of energy utilities took a significant hit in customer satisfaction. Cooperative dropped 2.6 percent to 75, and investor-owned and municipal both fell 2.7 percent into a tie at 73.

Prices are high, the weather has been extreme, and there’s been a decline in electric power reliability. Yet, as it turns out, if there’s one area that has truly hindered customer experience, it’s green initiatives. Specifically, a lack thereof.

Green programs are failing across the board

Efforts to support green programs are flat or falling in all three categories.

For those efforts, cooperative utilities received an ACSI score of 74 (unchanged), municipal utilities had a score of 70 (down 4 percent), and investor-owned utilities came in with a score of 70 (down 3 percent).

This is not good. In fact, it’s worse than not good – it’s bottom-of-the-barrel bad. The customer experience benchmark for green programs is the worst, or tied for the worst, individual benchmark in each of the three energy utility categories.

What’s the takeaway here? Customers are clamoring for eco-friendly solutions.

Some providers are taking these concerns more seriously than others.

Companies committing to green initiatives  

Consumers Energy, a subsidiary of CMS Energy, is dedicated to a “triple bottom line,” according to CEO Patti Poppe.

As part of its commitment to “people, planet, and prosperity,” the company became the first U.S. borrower to enter into “syndicated sustainability-linked revolving credit facilities.” By meeting certain sustainability goals, CMS can reduce the interest rate on its $1.4 billion loan from Barclays. Consumers Energy has a goal of 40 percent renewable energy by 2040 and recently announced plans to develop its third solar power plant.

Back in April, MidAmerican Energy, which is part of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, was named one of the U.S.’s top “environmental champion” utilities for the fourth straight year, based on a nationwide pre-Earth Day survey. Consumers look at the following five categories as part of the study: “promoting clean energy, enabling consumption management, facilitating environmental causes, encouraging environmentally friendly fleets and buildings, and consistently seeking ways to protect the environment.”

As much as we’d like to believe these providers are taking on these responsibilities out of the goodness of their hearts, it’s important not to overlook the obvious business implications. You see, there is a younger generation on the precipice of becoming the country’s largest living generation. And this group is not going to let the planet fall by the wayside.

Millennials in the market

When it comes to eco-friendly endeavors and green program initiatives, millennials definitely have something to say.

In its “2018 State of the Consumer” report, the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC) took a deep look at millennials’ interest in renewable energy. And let’s just say this generation is all about it.

While 41 percent of consumers said they’d be willing to pay an extra $15 a month for access to clean energy, over two-thirds of millennials were open to forking over the extra cash. Over half of millennials are intrigued by the concept of solar panels.

Clearly these consumers believe protecting the planet is worth the cost.

Go green or go home

We’d be remiss to claim that all utilities providers have to do to regain favor with their customers is to fix their “green” problem. However, what is clear is that the consumers have spoken – and they are in support of more green initiatives.

Some companies have heard the call and are taking action. Others would be wise to follow their lead.

ACSI Attends EMACS 2012

In October, ACSI staff will travel to San Diego, California, to join 350+ energy utility professionals at the 15th annual  EMACS – The Customer Experience Conference, organized by Chartwell. The 2012 conference, set for October 9 to 12, will feature over 30 presentations on topics that shape the overall experience of residential energy utility customers.

The conference represents the flagship customer experience event for the energy utility industry. EMACS attendees are invited to stop by Booth 805 in the Exhibit Hall of the Manchester Grand Hyatt to meet with ACSI staff and learn about our services for energy utility clients.

For nearly two decades, the ACSI has benchmarked residential customer satisfaction for the largest investor-owned utilities in the United States. In 2013, the ACSI will complete its third year of measuring satisfaction with municipal and cooperative utilities.

In April of each year, the ACSI publicly releases first quarter scores for approximately 30 utilities, identified by independent ACSI researchers based on size of residential business. The first quarter scores, however, tell only a small fraction of the customer experience story. By engaging ACSI services, energy utility clients access confidential data four times each year, covering not only customer satisfaction itself, but also customers’ perceptions of power reliability and the ability to restore power after an outage.