Category Archives: utility

Christina Nyquist Meeting the Needs of the Modern Natural Gas Customer

2015 EEI/AGA Customer Service Conference Explores the Opportunities and Challenges of the Digital Age

Did you know that the average American home has 26 appliances? Since Robert Bunsen invented the first natural gas burner in 1885, we’ve come to rely on a diverse array of household tools to provide essential daily needs like heating, cooling, cooking and bathing. Our dependence on these appliances makes seamless energy delivery critical, and energy utilities are dedicated to meeting the needs of their customers.

For decades, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI)/American Gas Association (AGA) Customer Service Conference has been the leading energy utility customer service conference in the world, bringing together energy and natural gas utility professionals to discuss ways to better serve customers and enhance energy delivery. At this year’s conference in Washington, D.C., the core tradition of reliably and safely delivering energy while providing excellent service remained the theme, as attendees discussed how to leverage and manage technology to further enhance the modern customer experience.

AGA Senior Vice President and COO Lori Traweek speaks on panel discussing “Perspectives on Utility Customer Service in the Future.” L-R: Charles Dickerson, Pepco; Tanya Hudson, Washington Gas; Rick Tempchin, EEI; The Honorable Branko Terzic, FinMetrix LP.

AGA Senior Vice President and COO Lori Traweek speaks on panel discussing “Perspectives on Utility Customer Service in the Future.” L-R: Charles Dickerson, Pepco; Tanya Hudson, Washington Gas; Rick Tempchin, EEI; The Honorable Branko Terzic, FinMetrix LP.

Today’s technology landscape has changed the way we use energy, as well as customers’ expectations for interacting with their local utilities. Attendees heard from panels and participated in workshops on leading customer service practices and emerging trends, challenges and opportunities, with remarks from industry leaders including AGA Chairman and President and CEO of WGL Holdings, Inc. Terry McCallister and AGA COO and Senior Vice President Lori Traweek. Discussions explored how to use online and digital platforms to provide greater flexibility, better communication with customers, response during emergencies and facilitate bill paying. More and more, energy utilities are offering mobile and online platforms for bill payment and outage communications and alerts. Utilities are also leveraging social media channels and online chat platforms to build relationships, talk with customers, increase engagement and spread important messages. And innovations in technology throughout the energy delivery chain have made the process safer, more reliable and more efficient than ever.

Yet along with these tremendous opportunities to provide solutions for customers, the digital world has created new challenges – particularly on the security front. As more functions and data move online, working to ensure that utility systems are secure from cyber threats grows increasingly critical. Defense expert and author of the book America the Vulnerable Joel Brenner delivered the keynote address, detailing the ever-changing threats posed by cyber hackers and attackers. Throughout the conference, panelists and breakout sessions examined today’s threats to energy delivery and customer privacy, and leading practices to combat those threats. Safety has always been the core value for natural gas utilities, and AGA and its member companies continue to work to enhance both the physical and cyber security of their delivery systems.

Joel Brenner, author of American the Vulnerable, discusses “Utility Customer Service in a Vulnerable World” at EEI/AGA CSC 2015.

Joel Brenner, author of American the Vulnerable, discusses “Utility Customer Service in a Vulnerable World” at EEI/AGA CSC 2015.

For nearly 200 years, natural gas utilities have delivered energy to homes and businesses. Though technology has changed, their commitment to safe, reliable energy delivery and exemplary customer service has stayed strong. In April 2016, the EEI/AGA Customer Service Conference will join CS Week – the largest utility-focused customer service conference in the world. Transitioning to CS Week provides all of the benefits of the EEI/AGA Customer Service Conference on a larger scale, and AGA looks forward to continuing to elevate the natural gas customer experience.

Posted in Natural Gas, people, technology, utility | Leave a comment

Richard Meyer Natural Gas Market Indicators: April 15, 2015

A new study from Washington State University shows that methane emissions from U.S. natural gas distribution systems are 70 percent below current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates of those emissions. Based on data collected from pipeline leaks, meter and regulator stations, and city gates within 13 utility systems across the country, the study’s authors found that emissions from local distribution companies (LDCs) have decreased over the past 20 years due to upgrades, changes in pipeline materials, and better leak detection and survey methods.

As we often report here in the “Market Indicators” blog articles, industry experience and performance exists on a spectrum – one that is often improving in terms of practices and technologies, as well as the regulatory precepts that oversee these activities. This study demonstrates improvements to gas utility system safety and environmental performance, but it is also part of a larger industry trend of better overall performance.

Visit this link to download the full Natural Gas Market Indicators report. Topics covered in this week’s report include: Reported Prices, Weather, Working Gas in Underground Storage, Natural Gas Production, Shale Gas, Rig Counts, Pipeline Imports and Exports, and LNG Markets.

Please direct questions and comments to Chris McGill at cmcgill@aga.org or Richard Meyer at rmeyer@aga.org.

Posted in Natural Gas, Natural Gas Market Indicators, safety, technology, utility | Leave a comment

Lisa O'Leary Advocates Urge Congress to Increase LIHEAP Funding

Nearly 200 advocates from across the United States converged on Capitol Hill last week to support responsible funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) sponsored LIHEAP Action Day 2015 along with member companies of the American Gas Association (AGA) and the Edison Electric Institute. The annual day-long event is aimed at building awareness for LIHEAP, a federal block grant program providing financial assistance to low and fixed-income individuals for fuel and utility bills, as well as low-cost weatherization and energy-related home repairs.

Representatives from Entergy and Atmos Energy met with Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) staff to discuss LIHEAP funding. Photo Credit: Entergy

Representatives from Entergy and Atmos Energy met with Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) staff to discuss LIHEAP funding. Photo Credit: Entergy

According to NEAUC, nearly 300 meetings took place between LIHEAP advocates and members of Congress and their staff, to discuss the need for at least $4.7 billion in LIHEAP funding for FY2016. Advocates in D.C. and throughout the country also took to social media to share important messages about LIHEAP by using #LIHEAPAction.

After many years of underfunding LIHEAP, Congress funded the program at $5.1 billion in FY2009 and FY2010. Since then, funding has declined by almost $1.7 billion and recipients have seen their assistance grants reduced by nearly $95, impacting the program’s effectiveness.  The average grant was estimated to cover less than half of the average home heating costs for a household this winter, meaning that many low-income families and seniors had fewer resources available to meet other basic needs.

This winter was especially hard-hitting in the northeast and southeast with record-breaking snowfall and cold temperatures, serving as a stark reminder of why the LIHEAP program is so critical. Here are just a few other reasons:

  • More than 35 million U.S. households meet LIHEAP’s federal eligibility criteria, yet only 6.8 million households were helped in 2014.
  • States and their charitable partners can serve households earning up to 150 percent of Federal poverty guidelines or 60 percent of median income. For a three-person family in the U.S., that’s less than $29,685, yet most LIHEAP households earn less than that amount.
  • Even with LIHEAP funding at $5.1 billion, the amount was only enough to assist 1 in 5 eligible Americans.
Rep. Peter Welch was presented with this year’s NEUAC Extra Mile award. Photo Credit: http://welch.house.gov/

Rep. Peter Welch was presented with this year’s NEUAC Extra Mile award. Photo Credit: http://welch.house.gov/

LIHEAP Action Day concluded with a Congressional reception and the presentation of the NEUAC Extra Mile award given to Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), recognizing him for his longtime support of the program. In a letter to the House Appropriations Committee penned by Rep. Welch and Rep. Peter King (R-NY), more than 145 lawmakers stressed the critical importance of full funding of LIHEAP.

AGA had to opportunity to interview several advocates in attendance of the LIEAHP Action Day Breakfast. Stay tuned for links to those video interviews next week.

Posted in energy, Natural Gas, people, utility, winter heating | Leave a comment

Lisa O'Leary AGA Members Recognized in J.D. Power Customer Service Satisfaction Survey

Interaction with a customer service representative on the phone has driven satisfaction up significantly among natural gas utility business customers, according to the 2015 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, created by J.D. Power and Associates.

Now in its 10th year, the study released in February measured residential customer satisfaction with gas utility companies by looking at six factors: billing and payment; field service; communications; customer service; corporate citizenship; and price.

Each utility company included in the study serves at least 25,000 business customers, or 3.4 million in total and were ranked in four geographic regions: East, Midwest, South and West. This year’s study was based on responses from more than 9,000 online interviews with business customers who spent at least $150 monthly on natural gas.

American Gas Association (AGA) members PSE&G (East), DTE Energy (Midwest), Alagasco (South), and Questar (West) ranked highest in overall satisfaction. Additional AGA members who were ranked among the top three in their respective region included: BG&E, National Fuel Gas Company, MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy, Oklahoma Natural Gas, Atmos Energy, NW Natural, and Southwest Gas.

According to the study, satisfaction improves year over year for a majority of attributes that comprise the customer service factor, including courtesy of the representative; the representative’s concern for customer needs; the timeliness of resolving the problem, question, or request; and the promptness in speaking to a person. Another key finding of the study revealed that customer satisfaction with billing and payment is higher when statements include useful information, such as graphs or pictures.

AGA members deliver clean, efficient and affordable natural gas to more than 68 million residential, commercial and industrial customers in the U.S., and are true partners in the communities they serve, some for as many as 100 years.

To learn more about the 2015 Gas Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study, click here.

Posted in people, utility | Leave a comment