Dec 30 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet

Everyone is writing the Top 10 “Best of 2009” or “Best of the Decade” lists. The Avista Blog has only been around since June 2009, so we’re only working with six months of material (113 posts), but still think we can offer up a few favorites.

So I’ll get this out of the way up front – this post is a bit self-serving. Listing the best of your own and your co-workers’ work over the year means that only the good stuff gets the spotlight. I’d be happy if you all would create your own Top 5 or 10 and post it in the comment section below, but until then, here’s my take on the Avista Blog’s Top 10 Best Blog Posts of 2009 and why they matter to Avista customers.

1. Transparency in action - Why did I get an insert with my bill? Aug. 17
In the first part of August, Washington customers received a flyer in the mail about Avista’s Washington General Rate case that had been filed in January 2009. Some customers wondered why we were asking for rates changes again. This post, and the following day’s post, “Today’s online chatter about Washington rates,” gave us the opportunity to talk about the lengthy, 11-month rates review process in Washington.

Excerpt: 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. Continue reading this post.

2. Video: Noxon Rapids Dam upgrades underway, massive Unit 3 turbine removed, Oct. 30
Watch video
There is so much you can do with video that might just be lost in a regular blog post. This post, our first to really explore the value of video helped show upgrade and efficiency work happening at Avista’s Noxon Rapids Dam.

3. Decision on Washington rate case due by Dec. 23, Dec. 18
So, why would a post, about something that hasn’t happened yet, matter to this list? It’s all about transparency. When we first started blogging, a few naysayers thought we’d avoid the touchy subjects like rates. We knew the rate decision was near (it was issued on Dec. 22 and we blogged about it the next day) and we wanted to remind everyone that this rate case is the same one we’ve been talking about all year.

Excerpt: One of the most confusing things I’ve encountered working in the utility industry is rate making. It’s a long, rather complicated process that is at times difficult to follow.  Sometimes it seems that every mention of a rate case, such as in public hearings, filed testimony before the commissions, mailed brochures and media articles – all sound like separate rate increases. Yet, each event is all a part of the public, transparent rate-making process; one that you’ve been able to participate in all year long. Continue reading this post.

4. Why in the world is Avista blogging? June 1
This is the first blog post we ever put up. It explained why Avista was diving into social media and invited you to participate with us.

Excerpt: We hope that the blog will be a place where you can come and learn more about Avista, our actions and vision for today and the future. But it’s not all about us. We wouldn’t exist without you, and we know it. This blog will feature your stories, questions and opinions. And yes, you can disagree with us – that’s OK. Continue reading this post.

5. Giving is a proud Avista traditionDec. 22
Watch video
This was a great post to wrap up the year in giving by Communications Manger, Jessie Wuerst (on twitter: @AvistaCares). Avista and its employees give to the communities we serve all year round, but holiday giving is especially impactful.

Excerpt: I’m proud to work at a company that has a deeply rooted belief in giving back to the communities we serve. I’m proud of the company that encourages and supports employee volunteerism in the communities where we live. I’m proud of the extra effort our company takes to make sure that the Christmas Bureau gets $10,000 and Fresh Start, a warming center in Coeur d’Alene, gets $5,000 to help the homeless and mentally ill when the frigid temps start to descend upon us. I’m proud of the support we give each year to education and economic development and those most vulnerable among us. Continue reading this post.

The rest of the Top 10
6. Clark Fork Hydro Project marks major milestones, Sept. 10 

7. All dialed-in to meter reading, July 27

8. Answering your questions: Gas prices and the wholesale market, Sept. 3

9. Answering questions: Smart Grid and peak loads, Nov. 12

10. The smart grid for 5-year-olds, Aug. 24
 
Thanks for a great first year at the Avista Blog.
 
Published: 12/30/2009  9:46 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 23 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Window caulking
I’ve heard this a few times since I started talking with customers online over the past year, “I’d love to be more energy efficient, but I don’t know where to start and how to pay for it.”

I think a lot of people are in the same boat. You know your windows are drafty and that your heating unit is on its last leg or that your insulation doesn’t exist – but how does all that, coupled with your energy usage and budget, get you to be more energy efficient?

It’s complicated stuff to be sure. But, if you’re an Avista customer in Spokane County, starting in 2010, we’ve got an uncomplicated solution for you.

Just today Avista announced we received $1 million of stimulus funding from the State of Washington Department of Commerce Credit Enhancement Program to establish a low-interest revolving loan fund to help customers make recommended energy efficiency improvements to their homes and small businesses. Partnering with Avista to establish the revolving loan fund is Sustainable Local Investments Partners (SLIP), who will provide administrative services, process facilitation and outcome reporting.

This program is unlike some of the stimulus-funded programs awarded recently to Avista and other utilities across the country. When most stimulus funds are spent, they are gone for good. Not this program; it’s set up to be around a while and as customers repay loans, the money is returned, allowing for further investment by other customers. 

Interested customers will start with a commercial energy audit currently offered by Avista or in a new home audit program which the company will launch early 2010. The City of Spokane, City of Spokane Valley and Spokane County are partners in the audit program. Avista is matching nearly $700,000 pledged by the governments to help offset a portion of the costs to you. The audits will provide you with an analysis of ways to make your home more energy efficient and will alert you to Avista rebates and federal energy tax credits for which you may qualify. 

We’ll have more on the revolving loan and energy audit programs in early 2010 when all the details and processes are established.
Published: 12/23/2009  2:07 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 23 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Yesterday the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) issued a decision on Avista’s electric and natural gas general rate case. I wrote a post about this pending decision on Dec. 18., noting that this case has been in the works since Jan. 23, and discussed the activities in the case since it was originally filed.
 
In the news release announcing the decision yesterday, the WUTC said it approved a 2.8 percent increase in annual electric revenue, or $12.1 million a year, and a 0.3 percent natural gas increase, or $557,000 in additional revenue.
 
In addition, the commission authorized deferred accounting treatment for the Lancaster power plant which would equal approximately $12 million. Avista will have the opportunity to recover these costs in a future rate case.
 
A partial settlement agreement between Avista and interveners in the case was reached on Sept. 4 that reduced Avista’s original electric request from $69.8 million to $38 million, mainly because of decreased power supply costs.
 
The decision document is 148-pages and we didn’t get it until late Tuesday afternoon, so our rates folks are still reviewing it. Watch this blog for more information about your rates and feel free to e-mail us with any questions.
 
Published: 12/23/2009  10:00 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 22 , 2009
Post by Jessie Wuerst
Follow Jessie on twitter @AvistaCares
 
Have you finished your holiday shopping yet? Is your home filled with lights and the fragrant smells of fresh baked goodies? So much of what we do to celebrate our winter holidays is centered on home, friends and family. You build traditions that are passed from generation to generation, and sometimes it takes extra effort to make sure the traditions are carried out each year.

Tom's Turkey Drive
KREM's Tom Sherry receives a
check from Avista and Avista's
employees for Tom's Turkey Drive.
During this season of giving, Avista is doing its share of year-end donations. They cap a year in which some $1.2 million was given to non-profit organizations in the cities and towns in the three states we serve. This tradition of annual giving is deeply rooted in our company.

Here are just a few examples. Just this month, some $21,000 in grants went out to 46 food banks in some of the smallest communities that we serve, including Warden, Connell, Addy and Valley, Wash., Priest River and Athol, Idaho, and La Grande, Ore. Each donation will be leveraged by food bank staff to bring many times its value and will provide nutritional food for those who are hungry.

Spokane’s Second Harvest Food Bank is on our donation list this year, too. In addition to our year-end donation, hands-on action is one of our favorite things to do. So, at this year’s United Way campaign kick-off nearly 50 Avista employees, including Avista CEO Scott Morris, sorted, bagged and distributed food for several hundred recipients at a distribution site in mid-town Spokane. These same efforts go on in Coeur d’Alene, in Lewiston, in Medford and many, many other locations - whether it is to fill a needy family’s freezer with meat or to gather clothing for women working toward self-sufficiency or filling backpacks with school supplies so kids can go to school with the tools they need to learn. It’s what we do, because it’s the way we are – the employees of Avista.

United Way Day of Action
Click the image above to watch the
United Way Day of Action this fall.
We are in partnership with our company. As employees, we gave $6,250 to Tom’s Turkey Drive, and when it was matched dollar-for-dollar by our company, the $12,500 benefitted more than 830 families at Thanksgiving. We gave nearly $15,000 to Project Share during our employee campaign in December, shattering our $10,000 goal. Project Share provides emergency energy assistance to the growing number of families in need in our region. We lead the way in employee giving to the United Ways in the communities we serve. And we give of our time to the non-profit groups that mean the most to us – some 45,000 hours of volunteering in 2009.

Okay, I’m boasting, but I’m proud. I’m proud to work at a company that has a deeply rooted belief in giving back to the communities we serve. I’m proud of the company that encourages and supports employee volunteerism in the communities where we live. I’m proud of the extra effort our company takes to make sure that the Christmas Bureau gets $10,000 and Fresh Start, a warming center in Coeur d’Alene, gets $5,000 to help the homeless and mentally ill when the frigid temps start to descend upon us. I’m proud of the support we give each year to education and economic development and those most vulnerable among us.

In my time at Avista, I have come to know what it is to walk our talk. It is our tradition, and we work hard to make sure that it is observed year after year. No matter what holiday you celebrate this time of year, I hope you will join us in celebrating a season of giving to others. Happy Holidays.
 
Published: 12/22/2009  3:14 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 22 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
We sent out this media release earlier today and I wanted to make sure everyone saw it. We lower the water level at Lake Spokane – I’ve always called it Long Lake – every year, but if you own property out there or know someone who does, you should start getting prepared.

Avista to Begin Lake Spokane Drawdown
-Water level to drop up to a foot per day

Lake Spokane

Avista Utilities will start to draw down the water level at Lake Spokane (Long Lake Reservoir) the week of December 28, 2009. It is expected that the reservoir will be lowered up to one foot per day for a two- to three-week period, dropping the level of the lake 13 to 14 feet below its maximum summer elevation of 1,536 feet.

Under the right (extreme cold) weather conditions, the drawdown is expected to help with control of Eurasian milfoil, an invasive weed found in many area waterways. The drawdown also allows for repair and construction by property owners along the lake shoreline.

Property owners and lake-users are reminded to make any necessary preparations, including removing boats from the water and securing docks and boathouses for low-water conditions.

Water levels are subject to change due to a variety of factors, such as weather or equipment problems at the Long Lake dam. Lake users should always be alert to signs of such changes and exercise the highest level of personal caution and safety when using the waterways.

Updated reservoir level information is available by calling Avista's recorded Lake Information Line at (509) 495-8043.
 
Published: 12/22/2009  10:03 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 21 , 2009
Project Share ornament
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
I just found out that Avista employees donated nearly $15,000 to Project Share this month. We stepped up our internal campaign efforts with a holiday theme and employees really came through. In just 18 days, more than 153 employees gave $14,749, shattering the $10,000 goal for this year’s employee campaign for Avista’s Project Share Fund.
 
Avista’s Project Share Fund provides one-time emergency energy assistance for our neighbors in need, regardless of the heating source they use. This heating season nearly $230,000 has been donated to Project Share from Avista and its employees. Together with donations from our customers, Avista’s Project Share Fund will be there to help keep lights on and homes heated again this year.
 
Learn more or donate to Project Share.
 
Published: 12/21/2009  3:07 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 18 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Throughout 2009 we’ve been talking a lot about natural gas rate reductions in Washington and for good reason; we’ve lowered gas rates in Washington and Idaho three times this year for a total reduction in each state of around 30%.

But any request – up or down – has to be approved by a state commission. It takes up to 11 months for the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) to review and reach a decision in a general rate request.

This brings us to next week – Dec. 23 to be exact. Way back on Jan. 23, 2009, we filed an electric and natural gas general rate increase request with the WUTC. If you do the math, 11 months puts a ruling due by Dec. 23. The ruling could come anytime between now and next Wednesday.

Since the ruling hasn’t been issued, we don’t know what the exact numbers will be, but the partial settlement agreement we reached in September was for about a 3% increase in electric prices; that’s down significantly from the amount we originally requested in our January filing. A lot changed in the 11 months since the original filing with the WUTC, especially with steep declines in wholesale natural gas prices. That’s why we reduced the amount in our partial settlement agreement.

To be perfectly blunt, the reason for this blog post is to let you know that next week, if you hear that a decision on Avista's rates has been made, please know that this ruling has been in the works for 11 months. It’s the case we talked about last winter and extensively online in August. (See Aug. 17 "Transparency in action - Why did I get an insert with my bill?" or Aug. 18 "Today’s online chatter about Washington rates.")

One of the most confusing things I’ve encountered working in the utility industry is rate making. It’s a long, rather complicated process that is at times difficult to follow.  Sometimes it seems that every mention of a rate case, such as in public hearings, filed testimony before the commissions, mailed brochures and media articles – all sound like separate rate increases. Yet, each event is all a part of the public, transparent rate-making process; one that you’ve been able to participate in all year long.

Utilities like Avista must file rate cases to recover costs, which are explicitly detailed in rates filings. The commission makes the final decisions about what is fair and reasonable for you and for Avista.

Again, we don’t yet know what the rates impact will be on this general rate case, but we do know it will be issued on or before Dec. 23. So please don’t be shocked if you hear about a rate decision – it’s the same rate case we’ve been talking about all year finally coming to a conclusion.
 
Published: 12/18/2009  3:35 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 15 , 2009
Gift Certificate envelope
Its hard to the gift certificate
envelope on this tiny image, but
it reads, "A gift of energy." 
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
This year Avista is offering Housewarming Gift Certificates online. It’s simple – you buy a gift certificate to help pay the energy bill of the recipient. Bills tend to be higher around this time of year, so any help would be appreciated, I’m sure. It takes a while to get the certificates processed (up to five business days), so if you want to get it for Christmas, you’d better to it soon.
 
 
If you’re looking for other interesting and green ways to give gifts this year, I’d recommend checking out “Green holiday gifts can bring joy, save money” from USA Today reporter Wendy Koch. It’s got some cool ideas that might be very meaningful to those on your list.
 
Happy shopping.
 
Published: 12/15/2009  10:24 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 14 , 2009
Hard at work
Clearing snow can be a big
job.
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
If you’re anything like my two kids (OK, me too), you’ve been anxiously anticipating the pending snow and disappointed by the wimpy dusting of snow we received last night in Spokane and Coeur d'Alene. Now, ask me again if I’m excited about the snow after digging my car out of a ditch or spending hours shoveling the driveway or sidewalk and I might be singing a different tune.

But, at least today – pre-snow – I’m excited.

Snow in the Northwest, at least over the last few years, hasn’t been all that friendly. It comes like a led blanket filling the streets and making travel plans slower, if not non-existent. We bought new tires for my wife’s car this weekend and those chains we bought last year are still in the trunk, hopefully for good.

The snow blower is prepped and ready to do the heavy lifting. I got a funny look from my 4-year-old when I pulled the noisy contraption out of the shed in October and fired it up – you know, “just in case.” Better to be over-prepared, I said. She told me not to block in her Barbie Jeep in the garage with my snow blower. Fair enough.

Big snow, little meter.
What you can't see in this picture
is that the snow piles on either side
of this gas meter are about 30 feet
high.
We never had a regularly-in-operation snow blower when I was growing up. Excluding me, of course. The driveway also had those pesky little blacktop bumps that always seemed to mess up my rhythm and jam the shovel into my gut when I got going too fast. I can still feel the handle of that wood and plastic shovel that I cursed every snow day for ruining my fort building and sledding.

But alas, I’ve graduated to a real snow blower that’s pushing five years now - a gift from my mom one December. And no, it didn’t make up for not having a snow blower for the 18 years I lived at home. It was close though, especially over the last two years of record-breaking snow.

The point of my trip down this snowy memory lane is to remind you to keep a clear path to your electric and gas meters. If you miss it on the first big snow, you might never remember to do it. One shovel-wide path is enough. I job-shadowed a meter reader this summer and saw how tough it was to get to some of the meters. Some people tend to pile up leftover items on the side of their houses, making the trip to the meter a treacherous one. Now pile on a foot of snow and it multiples the danger.

It’s not just meter readers that need to get to your meter. Gas and electric service personnel may also need to access your meter this winter – and that’s a safety issue for your whole house.

So, believe me when I say that I know how much work it is to keep the snow in its place, a safe distance from sidewalks, driveways, walkways and to your utility meters. Yet, I think a little extra effort is certainly worth the peace of mind it can bring you.

Let it snow.
 
Published: 12/14/2009  11:41 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 11 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
We sent out this media release today, but I think our blog readers would benefit from reading it too.

Avista is encouraging customers to be alert to scams this holiday season and to play it safe by verifying any request for confidential information.

Keep in mind that Avista employees do not phone customers asking for confidential information, including credit card numbers. If such a call is received, the customer should end the call and notify Avista at (800) 227-9187 or online at www.avistautilities.com. Also, Avista does not send e-mail messages to customers requesting account or personal information.

To protect personal property, customers should also be alert to Avista’s field practices. Field employees always wear Avista photo ID badge, and often will be wearing Avista apparel and driving a clearly marked Avista vehicle. Employees typically do not need access to a customer’s home or business unless the customer has contacted Avista about a specific problem. Customers may contact Avista at any time to verify the identification of an employee.

“The trust of our customers is important,” said Sandy Dragstedt, customer service manager for Avista. “We want to make sure our customers have the information they need to help protect themselves and their personal property from scams.”
 
Published: 12/11/2009  11:29 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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