Mar 01 , 2010
 
Post by Dan Kolbet

I’ve often said that Avista’s rate requests and rate cases that go before the utility commissions are part of a public and transparent process. This is still true, but I’d like to add a bit of an addendum to that statement. They are part of a public and transparent process – but they aren’t always extremely clear for the layman because the requests and cases can be complicated.

That’s no one’s fault really, as a regulated utility we are watched very closely by the regulators who set our rates and we provide a great deal of information to help them reach a decision. The utility business is complex and seemingly thousands of pieces of information go into one rate action.

You have every right to know what we include in our rate requests and we’ll be talking about our rate cases quite a bit over the next few months.

We will file electric and natural gas general rate cases in Washington and Idaho before the end of the first quarter of the year – the end of March.  We don’t have the requested numbers yet because they are still being finalized. Washington’s general rate case decision can take up to 11 months. In Idaho it’s around 7 months.

In the meantime before we file the cases, I encourage you to watch this short video that explains the rate case process in just a little detail. While it’s not specific any one case, it’s a nice overview of how the system works. The video is on a section of our website that has a bunch of information about rates. Check it out.

I’d also be happy to answer any questions in the comment section for everyone to read. Just leave a comment.
 
Published: 3/1/2010  1:31 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 01 , 2010
Avista's Sun Car
Post by Dan Kolbet

If you happened to read the Spokesman-Review this morning, you might have seen a great article about Avista’s Sun Car and electric vehicle work along with the smiling mug of my co-worker and occasional blogger Hugh Imhof. You can check out the article here.

I’ve written about the Sun Car a few times, but it was nice to see the broad reach of the S-R to spread the word too. Here’s the deal – the car (actually two cars) are hybrid electric Toyota Priuses that have been modified to plug-in to electricity and hold a charge. The modifications roughly double car’s miles per gallon to around 90 MPG (not too shabby).

Employees of Avista have been driving the cars around our service territory in Idaho and Washington since last summer. As part of the project we installed solar panels on our company headquarters to help power the cars too. You can see a live feed of the power generated by the solar panels here.

On a personal note, I think this technology is pretty cool. Driving around in one of these cars is a different experience – it’s really quiet – but it’s also just the beginning of the electric vehicle revolution. As the price of gasoline goes up, more of us think about cutting back our driving or carpooling more. But what if you could plug in your car every night and get the juice to power your travels right from your utility? It seems like a convenient option.

Yet, from a utility perspective, it’s somewhat of a tricky prospect. These new cars will collectively take a great deal of power. While I don’t think everyone can afford to rush out and buy a brand new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle today, there will come a time when these cars become a viable (and affordable) option. Testing the cars as Avista is today ensures that we will be ready if and when our customers need us to meet their car-charging needs.
 
Published: 3/1/2010  1:10 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 17 , 2010
Future Reardan Wind site
The Reardan Wind project (site
shown above) is on hold for a few
years.
Post by Hugh Imhof

So it looks like it will be a few more years before Avista builds a new wind farm. We’ve had plans to eventually build a wind project at Reardan, but now we are pushing the timeframe back.

The decision to reschedule the project, along with any other new renewables, wasn’t an easy one to make. Avista thought that all the current stimulus and tax incentives and lower turbine prices might make this a good time to build a project, but the numbers didn’t quite pencil out. The problem is that we don’t actually need the renewables right now, and it doesn’t make sense to add all the cost (these things are very expensive) until it’s closer to the time when we do need them.

Avista is already one of the greenest utilities in the country. We get more than 60 percent of our energy from clean hydropower and other renewable resources. Our carbon footprint is among the ten smallest of all the generating utilities in the U.S.

Avista has a plan for new resources called an IRP (integrated resource plan) that is updated every two years and looks at future resource needs. The current plan identifies that we will not need additional renewable energy until 2016. That’s because Washington has a law called an RPS (renewable portfolio standards) that requires utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from qualifying renewables such as wind or solar. Unfortunately our existing hydropower and wood waste project doesn’t count, according to the RPS.

We’ve been upgrading our hydroelectric generators, which does count and helps us meet some of the RPS requirement. We’ve been buying renewable energy credits that also count toward the goals. But by 2016 we’ll need to add more qualifying renewable resource.

Until then we’ll keep evaluating potential new resources and make our decision based on the most cost effective ways to meet RPS goals while still serving our customers reliably.
 
Published: 2/17/2010  2:03 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 15 , 2010

Kudos to our customers who in 2009 saved enough electricity to power over 6,800 Inland Northwest homes for a year and enough natural gas to serve over 3,000 homes! These savings show that every little bit we do in our homes and businesses to save energy really do add up.

Avista Blog Podcast Episode 1
Avista Blog Podcast Episode 1:
Listen to Dan Kolbet & Bruce
Folsom
 discuss Avista's popular
customer rebates. (May take a
moment to load.)
What did customers do to save so much energy last year? They looked for the Energy Star ® label when buying new appliances, installed high efficiency water heaters and furnaces, and upgraded windows and insulation to help keep their homes warm in winter and cool in summer.

For their efforts, customers qualified for rebates and incentives from Avista and reduced the amount of energy used in their homes. Commercial customers also received incentives for making energy efficiency improvements which helps manage their operating costs.

In total almost 35,000 rebates and incentives totaling about $18.1 million were given to residential, commercial, industrial and limited-income customers in 2009 through energy efficiency programs. But offering energy savings programs to customers is nothing new to us – we’ve been doing for more than 30 years.

To make sure we’re able to keep up with the increasing demand from customers for the popular energy efficiency programs, we filed requests today with the utility commissions in Washington and Idaho for modest increases in the natural gas tariffs which fund these programs. If approved by the utility commissions, residential natural gas customers in Washington will see a $2.54 increase in their bill starting March 15, and Idaho residential customers will see a $1.52 monthly increase.

This leads to the question – why do we help customers use less of our product? Because generally it costs less to help customers reduce their energy use than it would cost to build new power plants or purchase additional energy to meet customer demand. Plus, using less energy is the best option for our environment.

Learn more about our energy efficiency programs by listening to our first podcast with Bruce Folsom, Avista’s director of energy efficiency, or read today’s news release.
 
Published: 2/15/2010  11:40 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 12 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Today we launch our first-ever podcast. I sat down with Avista’s Director of Energy Efficiency, Bruce Folsom to discuss our energy efficiency programs and the rebates and incentives that are becoming more and more popular every year.
 
Take a listen. (You will be directed to a blank web page, which may take a moment to load).

Listen to podcast

Published: 2/12/2010  1:29 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 11 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Today the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission announced it has approved Avista’s request to reduce electric rates in Washington by around 7 percent. This change will be effective Friday, Feb. 12. You can read the WUTC announcement here.

Avista filed a request to reduce rates back in January. This decrease centers on the removal of a surcharge. The Energy Recovery Mechanism - or ERM - was in place to recover extraordinary changes in certain power supply costs that are above or below the amount included in customer base rates.

So, what does this mean for you if you live in Washington? You will be paying less for your electricity starting Friday.

Point of clarification: This is a decrease, but that doesn’t mean Avista won’t file for other rate changes in the near future. As we noted this morning on the blog, we’re planning to file requests in Washington and Idaho for energy efficiency program tariffs. We’re also going to file general rate cases in Idaho and Washington by the end of the first quarter this year.
 
We’ll have all the details of these filings here on the blog when they happen.
 
 
Published: 2/11/2010  12:20 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 11 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
I always enjoy customer comments on the blog, even if we don’t get flooded with them. I wanted to share this one from a customer named Vivian, who posted a comment on our announcement of a Washington electric rate decrease request in early January.

Vivian said: “Now, if this rate "decrease" is approved, will it be 7% off the new rate effective Jan 1st, just 43 days earlier, or will it be 7% off the old rate? It is very, very frustrating, to reduce our usage by 30 kwH/day, only to have our rates increased by 2.7%! This is on top of 3 increases for 2009. Gotta get it back some way, don't you? Frustrated, as I said.”

To which I replied: Vivian, I understand your frustration, we seem to have rate changes (up and down) a lot and it’s hard to keep track (even for me). To answer your question the requested 7% decrease in Washington would be based on the current rate being charged, which includes the increase in January. The timing isn’t very convenient, but it’s a decrease and it’s part of the regulatory process.

But the bottom line is this: This time last year a Wash. residential customer using 1000 kwh would be billed $75.94. Today its $77.14. If our decrease request is approved, the new rate would be $71.79 – down even from this time last year.

Since Avista is a regulated utility, we’re required to ask regulators for rate changes, up or down. It’s no surprise that people would rather see rates go down rather than up, but that’s challenging considering the increasing demand for energy. Sometimes we’re even required to request a rate change for various programs or adjustments based on regulatory requirements like the upcoming tariff filings in Washington and Idaho for energy efficiency programs. Sometimes the timing of rate filings is out of our control.

We’ve already stated publically that we anticipate filing a general rate case in Washington as early as the end of the first quarter 2010. General rate cases in Washington can take up to 11 months to come to resolution. (The length of a general rate case can be up to seven months in Idaho and 10 months in Oregon.)

So there is always some time in between the filing and the resolution, making both events seem independent, but they are really just bookends of the same public process. Unfortunately every filing, hearing, newspaper article, blog, TV interview or news release about a rate activity sounds like an increase and like Vivian said, that certainly can be frustrating.

So whether we’re requesting an increase or decrease; or whether it becomes effective in a few weeks or takes as much as 11 months – you’re probably like me – you want to know what impact any changes will have on your bill and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Since regulators set our rates, we don’t know the result of our request until the state commission makes a decision. On the blog, we’ll always give you the details when we file and when a ruling by the state commission is announced.

So, don’t be surprised when you see Avista filing some type of rate activity in the future, whether it be an increase or a decrease, it’s part of the regulatory process. If you want more details about any of this stuff, we’re always here to talk with you. You can follow our rates activities online and even here on the blog.
 
Published: 2/11/2010  8:12 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 08 , 2010

You’ll get no argument from me. The utility business and energy is pretty complicated. Not everyone understands it completely, and that’s part of the reason Avista created this blog – to keep us all ‘in the know’.

Well, the folks at ESource have created a funny and interesting video, “to learn what everyday people think about the smart grid, utility bills, and how they can save energy.” 

They approached people on the street and asked them some of the common things that utility folks talk about every day. I suspect that if you’re being honest, you’d have answered some of these questions the same way.

They call it Powerwalking 2009. Check it out.
 
Published: 2/8/2010  11:16 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 05 , 2010
Click to watch
Post by Dan Kolbet

If you read The Spokesman-Review this morning you might have seen that the Spokane County United Way campaign wrapped up to a great success. $4.7 million raised. Employees at Avista have a particular interest in United Way and always have a robust internal campaign, and our CEO Scott Morris has been the overall campaign chairman for the last two years.

In September I posted two videos centered on the kickoff of the United Way campaign and the United Way Day of Action. Since then many companies and individuals have generously donated.

The 4 percent increase in giving this year – a remarkable number – is a testament to the community we live in. As a personal contributor to United Way, let me give my small thanks to everyone who donated.

Check out John Stucke’s Spokesman article, “United Way sees donations rise.
 
Published: 2/5/2010  8:26 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 03 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Last night was great chatting with KHQ viewers about energy assistance and Avista. If you didn't have a chance to join in you can view the chat log here.
 
Do you find value in live chats? Should we do them more? E-mail me to offer your thoughts. We did a previous live chat in November - read about it here.
 
Published: 2/3/2010  8:40 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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