As electricity prices increase for a fifth consecutive year, and many customers report experiencing an increase in the duration of power outages, overall customer satisfaction falls slightly among residential customers served by the nation's 76 largest electric utilities, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2007 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study released yesterday.

The customer satisfaction industry average in the current study is 661 on a 1000-point scale-down seven points from an average of 668 in 2006. Overall customer satisfaction is based on performance in six factors: power quality and reliability; company image; price and value; communications; billing and payment; and customer service. Utilities are ranked in four geographical regions as well as in a segment for medium-size utilities.

The study finds that customers report spending 7 percent more on electricity in 2007, marking a fifth consecutive year that reported average monthly bills have increased. Nationally, the average stated monthly electric bill is $135.

With the absence of any major hurricanes off the Atlantic coast of the United States between April 2006 and March 2007, customers in the Southern region report a decrease in the duration of power outages, compared with the 2006 study. However, storm events did affect several other parts of the United States, and customers in all other regions report experiencing longer outages than in the previous year. The Midwestern region experienced the longest outage durations in 2007, averaging 13 hours.

The study also finds that customers are increasingly turning to utility Web sites for customer service inquiries. While only 10 percent of residential customers in 2003 reported visiting their utility's Web site at least once in the previous 12 months, that number has more than doubled (22%) in 2007.

"The growth in the number of households that say they have visited their utility's Web site is remarkable," said Alan Destribats, senior vice president of the energy utility practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "The leading utilities now experience more customer contacts via their Web site than by telephone."

Eastern Region

PPL Electric Utilities ranks highest in the Eastern Region. Also performing well in the region are Allegheny Power and Duquesne Light Company.

Midwestern Region

E.ON U.S. ranks highest in the Midwestern Region. Also performing well in the region are MidAmerican, Xcel Energy-Midwest, Alliant Energy and Kansas City Power & Light. Westar Energy is the most improved utility in the study this year.

Southern Region

Oklahoma Gas and Electric ranks highest in overall customer satisfaction in the Southern Region. Also performing well are CPS Energy, Duke Energy- South, Southern Company and Progress Energy.

Western Region

Salt River Project ranks highest in the Western Region. Also performing well in the region are Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Portland General Electric, and Arizona Public Service.

Medium-Size Utilities (serving between 160,000 and 400,000 customers each)

Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) ranks highest in the Medium-Size Utilities segment, and receives the highest score in the study. Also performing well in this segment are Pedernales Electric Cooperative and Colorado Springs Utilities.

The study results are based on customer responses from 29,042 telephone interviews conducted from March through June 2007 among residential customers of the 76 largest electric utilities across the continental United States.