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Low grades for National Fuel

National Fuel Gas Co. is getting low marks for customer satisfaction in new survey ranking natural gas utilities by J.D. Power and Associates.

Despite a 2 percent improvement in its score from a year ago, National Fuel's customer satisfaction score was the seventh-lowest among the 60 natural gas utilities included in the annual survey.

National Fuel's score of 593 ranked 14th among the 18 eastern U.S. gas utilities included in the survey and was 13 points better than the company's score last year, but below the national average of 640.

National Grid's gas utility business, which was the only other major upstate natural gas utility included in the survey, ranked even lower, finishing with the fifth-lowest score overall at 587 and 16th out of 18 in the eastern U.S.

The survey ranked utilities on company image, communications, price and value, billing and payment, customer service and field service.

Julie Coppola Cox, a National Fuel spokeswoman, said the rise in natural gas prices could be hurting the company's ratings.

"With the current environment of high energy prices, it is difficult to achieve high scores on customer satisfaction," she said. "Even as utilities don't control the price of the gas passed on to their customers, we remain the bearer of that bad news."

Cox also said the company's own surveys found that its New York residential customers gave the company an 88 percent satisfaction rating. "We see a disparity between this assessment and the satisfaction survey results we've seen from our customers," Cox said.

National Fuel also was one of only two major New York utilities that were not hit with any penalties last month by the state Public Service Commission for failing to meet the reliability and customer service targets set by regulators during 2007.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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