With all the dismal economic news, it is encouraging to hear that people are somewhat more satisfied this year than last with cost and service from electric companies, which is according to a study from marketing information service provider J.D. Power and Associates.

The 2009 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study was based on responses from more than 79,500 online interviews conducted from July 2008 through May 2009 among residential customers of the 121 largest electric utilities across the United States that represent more than 92 million households.

Customer satisfaction with utility companies in 2009 averaged 618 points on a 1,000-point scale, slightly up from 614 in 2008. On average, customers reported lower bills—$130 in 2009 as compared to $132 in 2008—and fewer power outages—1.9 in 2009 versus 2.1 for 2008.

While tiny improvements, it means that just more than 60 percent of customers were satisfied. Even though the top performing utilities scored higher, there is obviously room for improvement. Conversely, it is remarkable that utility companies have been able to contain costs and improve service when under pressure to plug-in renewable-energy sources, build smart grid technology and improve transmission infrastructure.

In 2009, utilities also improved from 2008 in three key service sectors: availability of information, accuracy of outage restoration estimates, and follow-up on customer contacts. Most notably, the study found that when customers were aware of their utility’s corporate citizenship efforts, such as community involvement and outreach programs, satisfaction improved considerably, up by 130 points or more.

“Even in a challenging economic climate, electric utility companies have improved power reliability and enhanced communications with their customers, especially when outages occur,” said Alan Destribats, vice president of the energy and utility practice at J.D. Power. “This investment in communication technologies and processes is key to the industry’s overall improvement.”