Ameren warned tree-trimming program didn't meet standards, increased risk of power outages

Monday, December 11, 2006

Separate power outages left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without power in Missouri and Illinois.

ST. LOUIS -- Ameren Corp. executives have said two massive power outages in the last four months could not have been prevented. But an Illinois commission warned last year that cuts in tree-trimming might lead to just such problems.

The separate power outages left more than 500,000 homes and businesses without power in Missouri and Illinois. The first blackout was caused by a windstorm in July, the most recent by an ice storm Nov. 30. St. Louis-based Ameren said in both cases the storms were so severe the company could have done nothing to keep power on.

The St. Louis-Post Dispatch reports that a state regulator in Illinois warned Ameren of just such a possibility last year.

An engineer with the Illinois Commerce Commission said the company's tree-trimming program did not meet state standards. The commission's annual report warned that the shortfall could cause extended power outages after a storm.

Weeklong outage

It took Ameren days to restore power in both outages. Thousands of customers in Illinois were without power and heat for more than a week this month as temperatures dropped well below freezing during the nights. Just 400 customers remained without power Sunday.

Top officials in both Missouri and Illinois have sharply criticized Ameren's response to the most recent blackout. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt asked the state's Public Service Commission to hold public hearings and said he wants Ameren to provide a clear plan for preventing a recurrence.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn also pressed utility regulators to investigate, calling the power disruptions a "systemic failure" despite the efforts of thousands of repair workers from 14 states.

The Illinois Commerce Commission voiced doubts about Ameren's power grid more than a year before November's ice storm.

Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said Friday in an e-mail response to the Post-Dispatch's questions that she disagreed with Spencer's findings.

Gallagher said Ameren adheres to the four-year tree trimming cycle mandated by the ICC.

The commission announced it would investigate Ameren's preparation and response to November's ice storm.

In Missouri, the state Public Service Commission is also looking into the recent outage. After analyzing the July blackout, the PSC recommended that Ameren boost its tree trimming program.

In 2004, the PSC reported that Ameren's tree-trimming program in Missouri was inadequate because of budget cuts.

Because of the findings, Ameren increased its budget to $32.2 million from $23.5 million and is on schedule to meet state requirements by December 2008, according to the PSC.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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