Now that a couple of weeks have passed since the November 30th ice storm, and about a week since most people have had their power restored, an interesting phenomenon is occurring regarding public perception of Ameren. While they’re still being blamed for their response after the storm hit, people seem to be softening on Ameren’s responsibilities when it comes to trimming the trees around power lines. It was the icing of those trees and fallen branches that contributed to over two million people losing their power, but many callers to my show today were more willing to put the blame on homeowners who don’t do their part by trimming their own trees, or even keep them from being planted near the power lines in the first place.

In his tele-conference with the press today, Ameren CEO Gary Rainwater tried to make that case, but added that the utility can’t possibly get to all the trees surrounding those wires when they’re on other people’s private property, and it’s not reasonable to think they can.

He also, for the first time, broached the idea of putting more of Ameren’s wires underground. That would be a massive project costing tens of millions of dollars and taking a couple of decades to accomplish — but it’s about time they at least started down that road. The Missouri legislature and Public Service Commission should make it a law that all new subdivisions and other construction must include underground wiring, and force Ameren to develop a plan to move their wires off poles and underground in the areas that tend to be most vulnerable in bad weather like we experienced twice this year.

When I asked my listeners if they’d be willing to pay more on their Ameren electric bills to help underwrite the cost of burying the wires, the response was a near-unanimous “no!” The public wants that cost to fall on the shoulders of Ameren’s stockholders, especially after Rainwater said today that, despite over $200 million in losses from this year’s storms, the company is going to make a profit once again.