Electric cooperatives got high marks in a recently released study of utility performance during the record-breaking winter storm that left millions of Texans without power earlier this year.
Researchers said the findings shine a light on co-ops' commitment to keeping consumers informed.
“Communications played a major role in how people responded during the event and afterward," said Kirk Watson, dean of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. “When people know what their expectations are, they are far less likely to judge activities and events negatively."
Watson led the study, which sought to gauge consumer satisfaction with their local electric utility during the February outages triggered by a widespread cold snap. In early March, when memories of the crisis were still fresh, the group surveyed 1,500 adults in 213 Texas counties about the performances of the state's regulated and unregulated utilities.
“Those who reside in an area served by [investor-owned utilities] had a significantly more negative evaluation of the overall performance…than was the case for residents who are served by an electric cooperative," the researchers wrote.
Analysis of the data suggests co-ops and other utilities that maintained active communications with consumers fared better than those that did not offer timely information.
“There's a feeling of investment in co-ops, that you are part of something," said Watson. “That probably plays a role in what we found and how people feel about their electricity providers."
Among the key findings was a perception among co-op members that their utility was more equitable in its deployment of rotating power outages to help prevent a widespread grid failure.
Watson said the study suggests utilities can benefit from transparency when potential demand issues arise if they warn consumers in advance.
“We've seen these problems before in the summer and had a similar winter demand incident in Texas in 2011," said Watson.
“The February event was so significant in people's lives that it's focused their concerns, and that triggers expectations that utility providers and regulatory agencies will need to address."
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