Here are some responses to the comments in my earlier post about Ameren UE's incompetence.
To everyone who says that ice is nasty and the storm was big: Yes, that's why Ameren is charged with trimming the trees around their power lines. It's part of their job. If trees get icy and fall on the lines, that's Ameren's fault. Tree-trimming is supposed to be happening year-round, not just when there's warning of a coming storm.
To the defenders of the line men: I don't think anyone blames the line men for the power situation. The problem isn't that line men don't work hard enough, the problem is Ameren's handling of their responsibilities before the storm hit. Their policies are obviously flawed at a high level. I appreciate all the work the line men are doing in such a tough situation.
To people who say we don't know enough yet to make judgements: I don't need to know a lot about power generation and distribution to know that Ameren is failing in its most basic responsibility. It seems obvious to me what they should have done: trim the trees properly. Maybe that isn't the right answer, but regardless of how it's done the experts need to find a way to keep the power running through a fairly minor storm. It's their job to figure it out!
As for the political angle, it's generally safe to assume that politicians are guilty until proven innocent. Besides, they don't have to be guilty to be fired, they just have to be incompetent.
To those who suggest underground power lines: Underground utilities are one potential solution, but putting lines underground increases installation and maintenance costs by about 1000%. There is probably a cheaper solution.
If the power distribution market were competitive I would just say "too bad" -- you get what you pay for. However, considering that Ameren UE is the only game in town they don't face competition. If the problem is that electricity rates simply aren't high enough to prevent week-long outages, then I'd suspect that most people would agree that a rate increase would be useful. However, since the system is noncompetitive there's no way to know the best way to allocate resources. There's no alternate electric company to offer higher rates and higher reliability, so we're all stuck in the same boat.