Saturday, September 16, 2006

THE CITY DESK - Rory Riddler, Councilman Ward 1

Electric Utility Management Thinks
We Owe Them For Poor Performance

You can “take it” from Ameren UE…they are doing a great job.

It’s all right here in their own press release.

They paid good money for a survey to tell them what a great job they were doing, how everybody loves them and they have the least outages of any other electric company. I’m not surprised the survey said good things about Ameren, after all when you spend that kind of money stroking your ego, you don’t want to be disappointed with the results.

The press release by the way, goes on to tell us how lucky we are to live in area where the cost of electric service is so low and how “generous” Ameren has been in letting it be so low for so long.

Who can argue with that? Makes you want to run outside and hug an electric pole.

Did I mention that buried somewhere in this press release they also want to raise our electric rates by around 35%? A mere trifle when you consider that last year Ameren UE generated $6.8 BILLION in revenue. What’s a few billion between friends?

Of course, they could just tell us all to go stick our finger in a light socket to approximate the shock we’ll get if these rate hikes are approved. It helps if you are standing in a puddle of water at the time.

Tuesday night I am happy to say the City Council stood up for consumers and passed a resolution calling on the Public Service Commission to deny Ameren’s request. It cites among other things their poor record of management and response to emergencies and power outages. It also carefully separates what we see as the shortcomings of upper management from the hard work of most rank and file Ameren employees.

These are the same employees the management of Ameren likes to “hide” behind whenever anything goes wrong. Yes we lost power to hundreds of thousands of customers for days, putting lives at risk and destroying tens of millions of dollars of perishable food and many more millions of dollars in lost wages and productivity of area businesses. Yes we were woefully unprepared to handle a crisis of this magnitude and had no idea when power could be restored. Yes, our skimping on the tree-trimming budget the last few years to save a few bucks made the problem far worse. But did we mention our employees work hard and work outside in harsh conditions?

I am proud to have been the sponsor of this council resolution and pleased to say it passed unanimously (not always an easy task on the Council). But I also want to share the credit with local Attorney Steve Martin, the Chairman of the City’s Landmarks Board. He brought the idea to me of doing the resolution and much of the research. It seems an elderly relative of his in a nursing facility was put in harm’s way by the duration of the power outages this summer. Steve never seemed like the kind of person to let a rose colored press release gloss over the facts.

For those who care to read the entire resolution, here it is:

Whereas, during major outages this summer, workers for Ameren worked 16 hour shifts, endured searing heat and even suffered one fatality, and

Whereas, the public is appreciative of the dedication of these workers, and

Whereas, the record of management of Ameren has not matched the sacrifice and dedication of its rank and file workers, and

Whereas, in the Ameren service area there have been three major outages in three summers, while other major metropolitan areas have not suffered the same rate of outages, and

Whereas, the summer outage of 2004 left 220,000 Ameren customers without power for up to four days, and

Whereas, Ameren says it had a plan to restore power within 72 hours, but failed to do so this summer leaving over 600,000 customers without power, and

Whereas, the utility had been cited by the Public Service Commission for skimping on its tree trimming budget, and

Whereas, this same management of Ameren failed to maintain the Tom Sauk Dam which failed, and

Whereas, Ameren’s poor planning resulted in the deaths of both people and pets, this summer, and

Whereas, Ameren customers lost over $60 MILLION in spoiled food by a conservative estimate, and

Whereas, restaurants and supermarkets lost a like or greater amount of food, and

Whereas, the elderly and those in hospitals and under medical care had their lives put at risk, and

Whereas, the loss of business productivity and wages was of an untold staggering amount during this prolonged power outage, and

Whereas, Ameren has pending before the Public Service Commission a major rate increase that will cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars,

Now Therefore Be It Resolved, By The City Council of the City of St. Charles, that while we applaud the dedication of individual workers of Ameren during the 2006 outages, we believe it is time that Ameren’s management stop hiding behind the efforts of those individuals and be held accountable for the poor management of this vital utility, and

Be it further resolved, that the public has no confidence in the current management of this company, and that the Public Service Commission should not consider any rate increase until the current management has implemented changes to reduce power outages and respond with the necessary resources and manpower immediately if they do occur and

Be it further resolved, that the Governor should not appoint or reappoint Public Service Commission members who do not, or will not, hold Ameren responsible for the worst series of outages of this company in its 100 year history.

[Note To Editor: If my column next week is a little late it’s because I’ll be writing it out long hand by candlelight the minute Ameren gets a copy of this week’s paper. Thanks]