Trust must be earned

Staff Writer
Washington Times-Reporter

When Tom Moore of Washington walked up to the microphone at last week’s Illinois Commerce Commission hearing on a $247 million rate hike request from Ameren Illinois Utilities, he had a look of resignation on his face.

“Bring back the old CILCO,” Moore said. “They showed a lot of respect to the community.”

Respect is a two-way street. Respect builds trust, and trust from its customers is one thing AmerenCILCO is surely lacking.

The company is asking for new electric and natural gas delivery service rates that would allow the companies to recover present and ongoing costs and continue making infrastructure investments.

“This additional revenue is essential for the Ameren Illinois utilities to maintain and improve our electric and natural gas infrastructure and fulfill our commitment to deliver energy in a safe, reliable and cost-efficient manner to our customers,” said Scott A. Cisel, president and chief executive officer of the Ameren Illinois utilities.

“Our current level of electric and gas delivery service rates are insufficient to recover our existing costs of providing service to our customers and earn a reasonable return on our investment.”

The company said it plans to invest $900 million in improvements for system reliability and other capital investments through 2010.

“These rate increases are necessary to attract the money needed from investors to make these critical investments in our infrastructure,” Cisel said.

No company can hope to be prepared for the future without investing in the future.

But, this utility monopoly has not invested wisely in building trust within its customer base.

“They have compromised valuable trust with the customer,” Moore said.

He spoke of tree-trimming efforts that butcher trees without regard for the customer’s appreciation of those trees.

He spoke of more and more services that used to be handled locally being farmed-out.

“Why should I support a company that has broken their trust with me?”

The elements that have led to this lack of trust started long before Ameren became the owner of CILCO.

However, the mess is in its lap now, and it has not adequately addressed the issue of trust.

One mistake AmerenCILCO made was closing off local access to customer service representatives.

You can no longer walk in the downtown Peoria offices of AmerenCILCO to talk face-to-face to a person.

That decision may have been good for the company’s bottom line.

But, it, and other decisions, have depleted the public trust CILCO built over decades.

Ameren has to build their case for this rate hike with the ICC.

Getting the public tobuy in would be an added bonus — but that seems like one big long shot right now.

The infrastructure is not the only investment Ameren should consider for its future benefit.

Some work toward gaining public trust would pay big dividends as well.