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Houston: Survey says ... consumers still confused?!
CenterPoint Energy's various business units

Posted by Floyd LeBlanc on 11/22/2011 at 3:57 PM

As a media spokesperson and vice-president of Corporate Communications for CenterPoint Energy, I’ve known for a long time that unless there’s a natural gas leak or widespread power outages, much of what our businesses do is “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” for most consumers. But last week, I read a consumer survey report from the Guild Group out of Austin that really brought this point home. Even though it’s been nearly 10 years since electric competition came to Texas, and even though millions of electric customers across the state have selected an electric provider and plan , there are still a lot of folks who don’t really understand how the market works or what my family of companies does.
Consider this:
  • Only one-third of Texans surveyed correctly answered this question: “Does the company you buy electricity from, also own, maintain and repair the wires that deliver electricity to your home?” (The correct answer, by the way, is no. In most of Texas, utilities no longer generate or sell electricity.)
  • Of those surveyed who are in CenterPoint Energy’s Houston electric service territory, only 27 percent could name our company off the top of their head as the utility responsible for owning and maintaining the wires that bring the electricity into their homes. Half of those surveyed named someone else.
  • If there’s one bright spot, however, it’s this: you beat Dallas. When told the name of their electric transmission and distribution utility and asked how familiar they are them, 64 percent of Houston-area residents said they were very familiar with CenterPoint Energy’s Houston electric utility compared to only 50 percent who said they were familiar with Oncor in Dallas. It’s hard to get too excited, though. Even when survey respondents were given our name, about a fourth of area-residents said they were either ”not very” or “not at all familiar” with it.
So what does this all mean? For you as a consumer, understanding the players in the electric market will make you a more informed consumer and one who knows who to call when you have questions about your service. For me and my team, the survey means we need to keep working to make sure you understand who CenterPoint Energy is, and how our businesses are distinct from other companies in the electric market. So allow me to reintroduce ourselves:
CenterPoint Energy, Inc., headquartered here in Houston, is a family of domestic energy delivery companies that operate in five business segments: electric transmission & distribution, natural gas distribution, competitive natural gas sales and services, interstate pipelines and field services operations.
  • Let me start with our company that touches the most Houstonians, CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, our electric transmission and distribution utility or TDU. This business doesn’t produce electricity or sell it, and hasn’t for about 10 years. Instead, our electric utility maintains the power lines, poles, meters, transformers, substations, and the other infrastructure needed to safely and reliably deliver your electricity. This is also the business that’s responsible for fixing damage to power lines done by storms or accidents. Note that there is only one TDU in a service territory (after all, who would want two or more sets of wires and poles on a street?) and we must provide the same reliable service to everyone in our service territory, regardless of which retail electric provider supplies their electricity.
  • Serving about one million Houston-area residents is our natural gas distribution utility.  While we don’t extract natural gas from the ground, we do sell and deliver it to more than 3 million homes and businesses in six states: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Minnesota.
  • Less visible to consumers are our field services and interstate pipelines businesses. Our field services business moves natural gas produced from wells, treats the gas and delivers it to large interstate and intrastate pipelines, which deliver the gas to utilities, power plants, and other large users. CenterPoint also owns and operates two large natural gas pipeline systems that transport gas to markets in the East and Southeast.
  • Finally, our competitive natural gas sales and services company, CenterPoint Energy Services (CES), sells non rate-regulated natural gas and related services to approximately 26,000 end-use customers in 21 states. It helps businesses manage their energy needs, and while CES doesn’t produce natural gas or electricity, it has expert energy advisors who help customers manage their energy risks and costs. It also manages the CenterPoint Energy Residential Electric Index, which is featured each Sunday in the Houston Chronicle and is presented on our website: CenterPointEnergy.com/TrueCost. It’s important to note that, by law, our electric utility business is separate from our competitive energy services company, and interactions between them are governed by a strict code of conduct overseen by the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
In summary, our Houston area electric utility is responsible for restoring power following storms (remember Hurricane Ike?) but we don’t sell electricity; our gas utility both sells and delivers natural gas and our other units conduct most of their business directly with large commercial and industrial customers. We realize that you don’t want to become experts in the energy business but we want you to know that when you need natural gas or electricity delivered to your home, or information to make important decisions – you can count on the energy experts at CenterPoint Energy, we’re “Always There.”
By: Floyd LeBlanc, vice-president of Corporate Communications for CenterPoint Energy, Inc.

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