Nov 22 , 2009
You’d think that after winning the E Source award for Top Utility Website in North America, that we might be content to leave the website alone for a while. Not so. For the next week or two, you won’t be seeing to many content updates on the blog or most of the website, but rest assured, it’s all for the best as we're working on some cool changes to the website.

I won’t give away all the details, but you’ll notice some simple modifications in early December. One thing I will say is that we’re working on improved navigation that will make your experience here even better. I think you’ll like it.

If you want to keep up with the latest utility news, you can always check in with @Dan_at_Avista or @AvistaCares on twitter. We’re also continually placing our latest news releases on the Avista Corp. website.

Questions, contact us here.

Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 11/22/2009  5:46 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 22 , 2009
Yesterday morning I jogged the Jingle Bell Run in downtown Spokane. Luckily it wasn’t as snowy and cold as last year, but nonetheless it was chilly enough to make the family want to eat something warm when we got home.  I chose to put some pork chops in the slow cooker and later mix in some veggies and rice for one of those simple quickie meals that fills you up, but also reminds you that it’s winter outside and it’s nice to be indoors.

Quick meals aren’t going to be the norm for most of us for the next few weeks. With Thanksgiving and many other holiday gatherings fast approaching, you probably aren’t going to get away with a quickie dinner like I made. If your house is anything like mine – Thanksgiving dinner is a production, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that.

One thing you might want to keep in mind during the holidays is that little choices about how you cook can save you money on your energy bill. We put a number of holiday cooking energy tips here, but a few of the one’s I will be watching out for are: using the right size burner on the stove; using the microwave when possible instead of the stove and making sure that the dishwasher is totally full before running it. I also like to keep the oven propped open a little after cooking so that heat warms the house instead of just burning off inside (not recommended with kids around though).

These might seem like little things that don’t make much of a difference, but trust me – little things add up.

That goes for other items this winter as well. When the kids are home during winter break, make sure they know that wearing long pants and a sweater are better than cranking the heat to 78! If you have guests over for a few days remember that you’ll be using more hot water for dishes, showers and maybe even keeping the heat a little warmer to ensure they are comfortable.

You can’t avoid those expenses because they come with the joy of being around friends and family, but when you get your bill, just reflect on how energy was used during the billing cycle. I bet you’ll be able to point out a few reasons besides the cold weather for any changes.

Hope you have a great holiday season.
Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 11/22/2009  5:37 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 17 , 2009
This morning – really early this morning – I was lucky enough to host KHQ’s live chat session during the news station’s morning show. All they had to say was, “visit khq.com and ask this guy from Avista anything you want.” And the questions poured in for two hours.

It was great to have so many conversations with customers over a relatively short period of time. We do the same sort of Q and A conversation through our blog inbox, conversation@avistautilities.com, but this was so different because it was not just two-way, but an entire community of people talking about energy. 

It was busy and exciting, and in the end I was pretty pleased with the number of topics we covered. We talked about rates, energy efficiency, natural gas markets, land use, relicensing, regulated and investor-owned utilities, power outages, the Avista blog, Comfort Level Billing, the Online Bill Analyzer, estimated meter reads and a lot of stuff in between.

If you’d like to read the transcript, you can download it here as a PDF. You can also view the chat here for now (until the station moves it off the website).

I’d like to say thanks to KHQ and everyone who chatted with me – I’d love to do it again, but if you have questions in the meantime contact us at conversation@avistautilities.com.

Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Published: 11/17/2009  2:33 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 12 , 2009
Earlier this week I received an e-mail from an Avista customer named Steve who wanted to know about time of use rates. Coincidentally on Wednesday we had a similar question and answer published in e.view, an Avista employee publication. The info, provided here by Communications Manager Hugh Imhof is good stuff, so – here’s a Q and A about smart grid, peak power usage and time of use rates. 

Question: I have been hearing a lot about smart grid technology and how the utilities will have the ability to turn off appliances especially during times of peak power usage. How do I found out when Avista's peak power usage hours are in my area? Thank you!

Answer: Smart grid technology will mean a number of different things for the electric system. Mainly it is a way to provide automation, using two-way communications within the grid, in order to increase efficiency and reliability, thereby reducing the need for new generation resources.

There is technology involved that would allow customers to monitor and better understand their usage and adjust it for greater efficiency and a savings on their bill. If customers allow us to, the utility will also have the ability to send signals to the home to reduce demand during heavy load periods (extreme weather conditions for example). This could mean turning the thermostat up or down a couple of degrees, or turning off the water heater for a couple of hours… something along those lines. By doing this we reduce overall demand and don’t have to buy expensive power on the market.

Peak loads (when electric use is high) generally occur in the morning and evening hours, before and after normal work times. Loads are lowest in the middle of the night.

In some regions utilities have what is known as “time of use” rates. This allows customers to shift their heavy usage to times when the rates are lower, i.e. late at night when demand is low. This kind of rate structure exists in areas where there is a big differential in what the utility must pay to obtain power between high load and low load periods. This mainly applies where they use a lot of coal-fired generation.

Northwest utilities, like Avista, are mainly hydro based and even though market power prices may vary greatly, there is not a big difference in the cost of generating power at different times of day. Avista has enough of its own resources that we don’t usually need to purchase market power during low load times. Someday, as our mix of generation facilities changes we may have time of use metering. For now we do offer a lot of other ways customers can reduce their energy use. Check out www.everylittlebit.com for more. 

Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Published: 11/12/2009  9:26 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 11 , 2009
An example of just one part of the
analysis provided for you after through
the home energy analyzer.
I’m a big fan of Avista’s My Account website features and the free home energy audit is a pretty cool way to figure out where your energy dollar is really being spent. We sent out a news release today encouraging the use of these tools, hopefully you’ll see it in the local media.
 
 
This tool is especially important as we enter the cold winter months because no one likes those high winter bills and having more information about your home can only help save money.
 
In the audit, based on a series of online questions, you will learn:

• How your home uses energy
• How your home compares to others of similar size for energy use
• What low-cost and no-cost steps can be taken to reduce your home’s energy use
• The expected annual dollar savings of various efficiency improvements
• The top ways to save energy, customized to each customer’s home
Links to applicable rebates and incentives are also included.
 
So, if you haven’t signed up for a My Account, try it out here. You get access to these free tools – and you can then leave comments on any blog post for the entire world to see after signing in.
 
Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 11/11/2009  2:02 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 10 , 2009
Check presentaton
Avista Utilities President Dennis
Vermillion presents Larry Stuckart,
Executive Director of SNAP with a
donation from the Avista Project
Share Fund. 
Today Avista donated $200,000 to its Project Share Fund for energy assistance to residents in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. This is money the company donates to SNAP and other community action agencies, which turn around and give one-time emergency energy assistance to  families in need during the winter heating season.

There are a few reasons why this donation – and this year – are significant. According to the community action agency directors who attended the check presentation today, their agencies are expecting an increase in assistance requests of around 40 percent. Many of the requests are coming from individuals who have never needed to request assistance, but have fallen on hard times due to job loss or other circumstances. Even those who are newly employed are feeling the pinch because they may not have received their first check yet.

Also significant is that this donation is not for individuals using a certain type of fuel – or even Avista customers. It’s for those in need in our communities, regardless of their fuel source or utility.

“Avista and our employees have a strong commitment to our communities and to the residents who find themselves in difficult circumstances. Our energy assistance programs, including Project Share, are important parts of our community partnership,” said Dennis Vermillion, president of Avista Utilities, in a news release.

If you would like to support Project Share this year, you can add the amount you want to donate to your energy payment and write that amount in the Project Share line of your utility bill. You can also donate directly here. All the money you donate goes directly to community action agencies. Avista just serves as the conduit. Today’s $200,000 donation is from Avista and did not include any donations customers made via their utility bills.

In addition to Project Share, several other programs for qualifying customers needing energy assistance are either sponsored or administered by Avista, including the Low Income Rate Assistance Program (LIRAP) for customers in Washington and Oregon. Under the LIRAP Program, funds collected from customers through a specific dollar amount approved by the state commissions are provided directly to community action agencies to assist customers with their energy bills. The company also sponsors programs such as the Customer Assistance Referral and Education Service (CARES), Senior Energy Conservation Workshops and, in Washington, the Senior Energy Outreach Program.
 
 
Published: 11/10/2009  7:07 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 10 , 2009
The Q’emiln Park boat launch ramp on the Spokane River in Post Falls, Idaho will be closed for the season beginning Friday, Nov. 13. The ramp, located upstream of Avista Utilities’ Post Falls Hydroelectric Development, is typically closed each year in mid-November due to weather conditions and dropping water levels.
 
The boat launch must remain closed for safety reasons whenever water is spilled through gates at the Post Falls Dam, which can be the case for much of the fall through spring. The ramp will re-open in the late spring or early summer, depending on the amount of inflows into Coeur d’Alene Lake
 
As a result of Avista’s annual drawdown of Coeur d’Alene Lake, Spokane River levels above the dam will be approximately three feet below summer elevation on Nov.13.  Water levels may drop by as much as five additional feet by the end of January. These water levels are subject to change due to weather conditions.
 
Avista has a 24-hour telephone information line that provides notification of anticipated elevation changes on Coeur d’Alene Lake, Lake Spokane and the Spokane River during the subsequent 24-hour and one-week periods. In Idaho, call (208) 769-1357; in Washington call (509) 495-8043.
Published: 11/10/2009  9:29 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 05 , 2009
In the last two weeks we sent out an e-mail to customers about what it means to be a regulated utility and I’ve been able to respond to dozens and dozens of e-mails from customers based off of that e-mail. One question popped up a few times - it was about our electric rates compared to PUDs and Co-ops.

Here’s what Julie, and Avista customer asked: “I was wondering why the cost of both energy, and delivering it are higher than others like say Modern Electric.”

That’s a good and fair question. Some PUDs and Co-ops (and Modern) have access to very low-cost power from the Bonneville Power Administration. So their rates are sometimes, but not always lower. The cost of delivering it – such as a monthly charge - also varies per company.
 
The problem is that BPA has a limited amount of low-cost power. As customer loads continue to grow, BPA and the public utilities will need to acquire new resources at higher prices than the utility industry is experiencing today. Modern also serves significantly fewer customers than Avista, 10,000, compared to our 355,000 electric customers. We have to build or buy diversified resources to meet that demand and renewable energy requirements, while many Co-ops or PUDs don’t even generate their own power.

The history of how electric utilities sprung up around the country is actually pretty interesting and part of the reason Co-ops and PUDs were originally formed in many rural areas. Last year we created a website to talk about our company’s history from the early days (like 1889) to today. There is an interactive timeline that walks you through major events in our history. Check it out at: http://www.avistalegacy.com/
 
We’re still the same company, but we’ve been through a lot of changes.
 
Published: 11/5/2009  7:55 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 04 , 2009
The Oregon Public Utilities Commission put out a news release on Monday about the details of Avista’s natural gas rate increase request from July and our recent request to decrease prices, due to the wholesale cost of gas.

We announced the basic details of this up, down rate activity on September 30, in the blog post, “Settlement reached for Oregon natural gas rates.” But I received a few e-mails this week asking for clarification. I think the Oregon PUC news release actually covers it pretty well. It’s re-published in its entirety below.  

Commission Issues Avista Utilities General Rate Case Decision
Salem, OR.  The Oregon Public Utility Commission today announced its decision to adjust rates for customers of Avista Utilities, which serves approximately 95,000 customers in LaGrande, Roseburg, Medford and Klamath Falls.
 
In July Avista filed its request with the Commission to raise its rates by 11.6% to pay for major capital projects including pipeline reinforcement projects throughout Oregon. The Commission, after closely examining the request, reduced it to a 7.1% increase.
 
“While this decision for the general rate case will increase rates, customers will still see their bills go down because it will be offset by a 20% rate decrease that accounts for recent drops in prices for natural gas, that also takes effect Nov. 1,” said Commission Chairman Lee Beyer.
 
The average residential customer who uses 52 therms will see their bill drop by $10 or 13%.
 
The decision also settles a true-up for utility taxes. Avista customers will see a $2.4 million dollar refund on their November and December bills. Senate Bill 408 is designed to ensure that the amount collected for taxes in customer rates matches the amount paid by utilities to taxing authorities.

This is the third time since 1991 that Avista has asked the Commission to adjust rates for a general rate request.
 
-end-

Visit the Oregon PUC website.
Published: 11/4/2009  2:35 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Nov 03 , 2009
 
A red-tailed hawk brought to Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine was released last week, and Avista was recognized for helping to make the raptor’s recovery successful.
 
The hawk, nicknamed “Burns” after the woman who found her, was extremely dehydrated and malnourished when she was brought to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center at WSU center over the summer.

After two months of nutrition and exercise in WSU’s newest raptor rehabilitation flight muse, Burns was ready to return home, which is likely nearby.

“She should have a territory here,” said Dr. Nickol Finch, who heads up the Raptor Rehabilitation Program at WSU. “She was found very close by. We were able to get her out quick enough, hopefully no other hawks will have moved in.”

Avista donated the time and materials for raptor platforms in the area, and was instrumental in renovating one of the old Carver Farm buildings into the new Raptor Rehabilitation Center on the Pullman campus. The project, completed last year, allowed the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital to continue its exceptional program in raptor research and rehabilitation.

Avista employees Paul Kimmell, Robin Bekkedahl, Tim Olson and Jenny Blaylock were on hand to watch the release. Kimmell expressed his gratitude for everyone’s generosity and noted the value of these established relationships as well as the creative approach to working with Washington State University.

“We’re thrilled to see the new rehab center’s efforts paying off,” Kimmell said.  “Partnering with this world-class center to help further efforts in raptor recovery and protection shows Avista is truly committed to the wellbeing of these majestic birds.”
Published: 11/3/2009  4:05 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post