Aug 31 , 2009
Just a few minutes ago, Avista announced that we’ve requested a 21 percent decrease in natural gas rates for our residential customers in Oregon effective Nov. 1. This is great news for customers heading into the winter heating season. If you’ve been reading this blog, this announcement isn’t much of a surprise. We’ve been saying for months that if market conditions continue, a natural gas decrease is likely this fall. Here it is. Read the news release

If approved, this request would give our Oregon customers their lowest natural gas rates since 2004.

Today’s request is tied to the direct cost of wholesale natural gas which makes up about 75 percent of your bill. We don’t mark up the cost of natural gas purchased to meet customer needs. The remaining 25 percent of your bill covers the cost of delivering natural gas – the equipment and people needed to provide safe and reliable delivery of service.

You might recall the Public Utility Commission of Oregon (PUC) is currently reviewing a rate increase request made in June to recover the costs of recent upgrades to our distribution system. If approved, today’s decrease request would likely more than off-set any approved increase. View the details of June’s request. The PUC has until April 2010 (10 months from the original request) to make a decision on the increase request.

Multiple natural gas rate requests can be confusing - no doubt - but the bottom line is that if approved, rates in Oregon will decrease by 21 percent on Nov. 1, before the heating season is in full-swing. The natural gas decrease will more than off-set the pending increase request that we’ve asked for to recover costs for distribution system upgrades.  

If you have any questions about the decrease, drop us a note in the comments section.
 
Published: 8/31/2009  2:00 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 31 , 2009
Today Avista filed its Electric Integrated Resource Plan (IRP)  in Washington and Idaho. The IRP tells the states how we plan to generate or obtain needed electricity for customers for the next 20 years. We file an updated plan every two years.

As you might expect, the plan is highlighted by wind. We’re looking at up to 150 megawatts of wind by the end of 2012 to take advantage of renewable energy tax incentives, diversify Avista’s resource mix and meet renewable portfolio standards. An example of a renewable standard is Washington’s I-937, an initiative passed by Washington voters in November 2006 that requires utilities to have 15 percent of their load served by new renewable energy by 2020.

We’re also planning aggressive energy efficiency measures to reduce generation requirements by 26 percent or 339 megawatts. (One megawatt is enough electricity to power roughly 750 homes.) See our Utility 101 post on megawatts.

We’ll continue upgrades on our transmission system and hydroelectric projects to get the most out of those resources.

“We continue to obtain new resources in a responsible and environmentally sound manner so that we can provide clean, reliable and cost effective energy for our customers,” said Avista Utilities President Dennis Vermillion, in today’s news release. Read the release here.

Finding that perfect mix of resources that meets our regulatory obligations (such as I-937) and increasing customer demand, while also keeping prices as fair as possible is at the heart of our planning. I know a lot of work goes into building this plan, but I wouldn’t expect anything less. Meeting increasing customer demand for electricity is not a simple prospect.

If you have any questions about our planning, drop us a line in the comment section and we’ll find the answer for you.
Published: 8/31/2009  12:10 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 31 , 2009
We use a lot of fancy utility terms in our communications – and yes, even here on the blog. We can’t help it. It just comes out. So today, I’m doing the first Utility 101 post. In these posts I’ll try to explain some of the terms we use all time that you probably aren’t too familiar with.

We live this stuff and often expect you to know everything about it too. Not really fair, right?. If I get stuck in utility jargon mode – please call me on it. If it doesn’t make sense, then I should do a better job explaining it.

Here’s an example: what is a megawatt? When we talk about the generation of electricity at one of our dams, natural gas-fired plants, our biomass plant and even a wind farm, we often refer to the output in megawatts or MW. A megawatt is a measurement of electricity – roughly enough to power 750 homes. Of course, this varies by usage in each home, but it’s a good general number.

To make a comparison, Avista’s hydroelectric dam at Monroe Street has a generation capacity of 15 MW, while our Noxon Rapids hydro dam in Montana is much, much larger at 548.4 MW.

A megawatt is one million watts. A kilowatt is 1,000 watts. Customer rates are charged by the kilowatt hour or kWh. A kWh is equal to using 1,000 watts for an hour.

So now when we say we are looking to add 150 megawatts of wind by the end of 2012 – you know what we’re talking about. 

Ideas for the next Utility 101 post? Send me an e-mail or drop me a comment below.
Published: 8/31/2009  11:20 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 27 , 2009
I just got word that we’re going to have a planned outage next Tuesday, Sept. 1, for some customers along Lake Coeur d’Alene. Our crews are working on improvements to our Ogara substation and they need to shut off the juice for about four hours.

Approximately 760 Avista customers on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene from Carling Bay south to Ogara Bay, including the City of Harrison and customers on Hells Gulch Road will be impacted by the outage. About 575 Kootenai Electric Cooperative members on the southeast side of Lake Coeur d’Alene and in the Harrison area will also be impacted. The outage will begin at 3:30 a.m. and is expected to last until about 7:30 a.m.

This event is a good chance to talk about infrastructure upgrades, improved reliability projects and meeting customer demand. We always use those buzz words when talking about rates and why we file requests for increases. This work shows where some of those words are put to action. Customer demand in the area has increased and work on the sub will allow for increased demand.

So, if you live in this area, you’ve got a couple days to find a battery-power alarm for that early morning wake-up call. Personally, I opt for the cell phone alarm. It’s plenty loud and the phone holds a charge for a few days.

If you are impacted by this outage, drop us a line and let us know how it went.
Published: 8/27/2009  4:00 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 25 , 2009
A co-worker encouraged me to use Avista’s online carbon calculator today. Turns out my household is doing pretty well – about 17.3 tons of CO2 a year, compared to the national average of 41.5 tons.

The calculator is available for Avista customers with a My Account. Simply sign-in if you have an account and click on the graphic that says “Reduce your carbon footprint.” If you’ve yet to sign up for a My Account – now you have another reason. It takes just a few minutes to create an account that helps you dive deep into your energy usage, bill amounts, make payment arrangements, sign-up for services and many other features. Sign in now.

There are many carbon calculators available online, but this one automatically pulls in your household energy usage, so you don’t have to do the math. It’s also calibrated for Avista’s unique energy mix. Avista is one of the greenest utilities in the nation, so it makes sense to have the specifics for our generation in your calculation. Other calculators are good, but use general information since all utilities and lifestyles differ.

You can adjust various elements, such as number of cars driven, number of people in the household, recycling habits and so on. The only thing I had to estimate was water usage (which the site did for me).

The whole thing took about five minutes. I encourage you to try it out.

What’s a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide or CO2. A Carbon Footprint is made up of two parts—a primary footprint and a secondary, or indirect, footprint. Our carbon calculator focuses on this primary footprint.

 
Published: 8/25/2009  11:10 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 24 , 2009
As recently as last night I was trying to explain what “smart grid” was to my five-year-old. Needless to say, she didn’t quite get the concept. She just knows if the lights go out “the batteries are dead.” I’m OK with that understanding for now – it’s probably more than I knew at that age.

So last night we were watching a TV news show that was reporting on smart grid stimulus funding. I’ve pointed out power lines plenty of times to my kids for safety reasons, but what they do is still a mystery and to be honest, before I started working at a utility, it was a bit of a mystery to me too. How does the electricity generated hundreds of miles away get to my blender? Seems pretty smart already, right?

We’ve been talking more and more about smart grid and Avista even applied for some federal stimulus funding earlier this month for some projects. In a previous post we said that in general, having a smart electric grid means using technology to enhance the flow of energy and information while increasing reliability, efficiency and decreasing costs. My five-year-old just walked away when I said that. Go figure.

So, we’re all still trying to figure it out – or at least how to talk about it. In the meantime, you can checkout this detailed presentation called “The Smart Grid: An Introduction” from the Department of Energy. It’s definitely more than an introduction and more information than you need for your everyday life, but it’s a nice reference piece to have if you’re studying to be on Jeopardy or just really want to know about this stuff.

In the end, I told my daughter that the smart grid will help our house, and the black wires attached to it, talk with the power company.

“Dad, power lines don’t talk,” she said. “Maybe mom knows.”

I give up. 

Anyone out there have a good explanation of smart grid for me to use?
 
 
Published: 8/24/2009  12:15 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 20 , 2009
Today we announced we’re working to launch two new efforts centered on energy efficiency. One proposal concerns energy efficiency audits for residential and small business customers. The other is a revolving loan fund for energy efficiency projects.

These proposals work in tandem. Part one offers customers an in-home and in-business energy audits done by a certified energy auditor. The second part involves a revolving, low-interest loan fund to complement Avista’s energy efficiency incentives and federal tax credits, as a means to finance recommended energy efficiency upgrades. For now, we’re calling these proposals the energy efficiency audit and financing project.

The low-interest loan project was submitted to the State of Washington as part of the State Energy Program funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The loan program would be administered by the Sustainable Local Investment Partnership (SLIP), a non-profit partnership of area credit unions and banks. Avista would not receive dollars from the grant.

The energy efficiency audit program is a partnership between Avista, Spokane County and the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley. The partnership will support the training and deployment of certified energy efficiency auditors to homes and small-businesses served by Avista. The government contributions would be matched by Avista dollar-for-dollar.

We expect to hear back from the State of Washington in September. So watch this blog for more information as it becomes available.
 
Published: 8/20/2009  7:35 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 18 , 2009
There was quite a bit of debate on local blogs and discussion forums today regarding our proposed electric and natural gas rate increase in Washington. I wanted to post some clarifying comments. The Public Counsel of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office sent out a news release about Avista’s rate request on Monday. I won’t go into the details of the release. If you’d like to read it, you can find it on the AG’s website.

The role of the Pubic Counsel is to advocate for customers like you in rate cases, but they don’t have any regulatory decision making powers. The regulatory review process helps insure reasonable and fair rates and the reliable and sustainable delivery of power. The decisions on energy prices remain with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, which holds Avista to strict regulations that insure accountability to customers. The utility commission staff also filed testimony that our regulatory folks are reviewing.

What you’re reading online this week or hearing on the news is part of the normal, transparent process when a rate request is filed. We originally filed this request in January, and the recent news from the AG’s office is a step in the process. Since it can take up to 11 months, you’ll hear about the same request multiple times. It’s good that you’re being kept apprised of the process, but it’s not a new request or “another rate increase” even though it might seem like that sometimes. 

These discussions are the essence of a regulated utility. The process is transparent, open and customers are welcome to weigh in through the AG’s office, the WUTC or Avista.

Customers understandably are concerned with their monthly costs, and that’s the reason behind the process mentioned above. It insures that the prices we charge you are fair.

Want to share your thoughts? Post a comment to this blog. Click on "comments" and sign in.
 
Published: 8/18/2009  5:45 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 17 , 2009
If you’re a customer in Washington who receives a paper bill, you should have recently received (or will receive) an insert with your bill regarding Avista’s requested electric and natural gas rate increase. We filed this request with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission in January. The commission has up to 11 months to make a decision on our request. View the bill insert here.

Part of the 11-month process is allowing time for public comments. This flyer, which details the request, provides you an opportunity to share your thoughts with the commission. Included is a tear-off postcard you can mail to the commission with your thoughts. Also included on the insert are the dates and times for public hearings if you’d like to attend. These notices and meetings aren’t new. Both are a part of the on-going process for setting energy prices.

The tricky part of this rate request process, which could take up to 11 months, is that you will hear about the same request in the media and from Avista several times. If you’re anything like me, you’re a busy person, who doesn’t have time to study every piece of mail that comes to your house or watch every nightly newscast. So when you hear about Avista’s rates again on the news or on the Web, it’s easy to assume that we’ve made additional requests, when in fact we’re just going through the normal public, transparent process from our previous request.

To make this even more confusing, Avista serves Idaho, Washington and Oregon customers. Each state has its own regulatory agencies with different timelines and terminology. Rate activity in one state doesn’t always apply to the others, but often the news is communicated broadly to get the word out to everyone, making it seem like it happens more often. 

We also lowered natural gas prices twice this year in Idaho and Washington, and we expect to do so again later this year, if market conditions continue. So, we’ve added even more communication to the mix to let you know that rates have gone down throughout the year.

Tracking rates activity isn’t always the easiest thing to do, given the items mentioned above, but if you have specific questions, feel free to comment on this blog post in the comments section for all to see. We’ll reply to your comments on the blog to let other customers see the discussion too and hopefully join in.
Published: 8/17/2009  2:59 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 13 , 2009
We’re about midway through August, so it’s time to gear up for Sustainable September. Together with Community-Minded Enterprises, the group is creating a month of events that will move us closer to sustainable living in this area.

According to their website, “Sustainable September is about strengthening Spokane for now and for future generations. And strong, sustainable communities have vibrant local economies, clean air and water, and a healthy quality of life for every citizen. Together with partners in the business, civic, and nonprofit communities, we are creating a series of events focused in the month of September that will increase awareness and share knowledge with the common goal of building resilience in Spokane and region-wide.”

Sustainable September Spokane has set up a cool social network over at: sustainableseptemberspokane.ning.com where you can get involved, find links and check out all the events, some of which are already underway. I'm signed up. What about you?

Track them on twitter: @SustainSpokane. You can follow Avista’s tweets about this blog and other news as well here: @Dan_at_Avista.

 
Published: 8/13/2009  9:43 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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