This Avista crew was in the middle of installing a
large steel electrical structure that holds power lines
which cross the Spokane River near SFCC and TJ
Meenach Bridge. The old wooden structure is still
standing in the middle with the poles connected at
the top. Two of the taller steel replacement poles are
on the picture on the left and right. The placement of
this structure is on the side of a 45-degree angle
ravine that slopes down to the river below. Once the
full structure is built the crew will re-string new, more
efficient power lines across the river.
The Avista crew fills in the hole for a new steel pole.
A contractor had to shoot gravel down the ravine on
a belt to fill in the massive depth of the new poles.
We all use power every day, but don’t always know where it comes from or why it’s so reliable
This morning I wrote a reply in an ongoing online conversation I’ve been having with a few folks on a local news website. The discussion was wide-ranging from rates to hydropower. We don’t always agree with one another. That’s OK. It got me thinking about power generation in our area and our customers’ use of it.
One area of the discussion that struck me was the idea that Avista’s hydroelectric dams (built when the company was Washington Water Power) were paid for by taxpayers. I don’t know if this is a common misperception, but it’s incorrect. In fact, all of Avista’s (WWPs) dams were built through private funding. All Spokane River projects: Monroe Street
(1890) Post Falls (1906), Nine Mile (1908), Nine Mile (1915) and Upper Falls
(1922); and Clark Fork projects: Noxon Rapids
(1959) and Cabinet Gorge
(1953) were built privately.
There are so many little dams chugging away day after day, decade after decade that they are easy to ignore. Even after four years of working at Avista when I think of a “big” dam, I find myself thinking of Grand Coulee
or Chief Joseph
dams on the Columbia River. Those are federal dams built with taxes, Avista’s weren’t.
Our power mix is roughly 50 percent hydroelectricity. Forty-two of that 50 percent comes from the dams we built, own and operate. The rest come from long-term contracts with other hydro generators.
Focusing on reliability so you don’t have to
Operating these dams and electric resources is really a complex process that most of us don’t think about every day. The perception may exist since these resources are up and running that power has, and always will be plentiful and reliable. That’s just not the case. We’ve got to work at it together. One of the questions I received last summer when I was working on our Energy on the Street project
was about the future of energy. How is Avista planning for the future?
The web of electric generation around the Northwest provides juice for those who want it and pay for it. When I come home at night and flip on the lights, I don’t think about where that power comes from and I bet you don’t either. Is it hydro, natural gas, biomass, coal or wind? But there’s a system in place that we manage that ensures you get the power you need when you want it. That’s one way to think of reliability.
The system is also reliable because employees maintain it. The effort extends beyond maintaining or upgrading power plants. It’s reliable because of the people who climb the poles in six-feet of snow. The men and women who brave the elements to ensure the power lines that feed your home are back in service as quickly as possible when nature’s fury blows trees into the lines, encases them in ice or burns them to the ground in a firestorm.
Avista’s electrical system is rooted around 125 years of history, but it’s not on autopilot. Our employees work hard to ensure that when you flip the light switch or turn on the TV, you don’t have to think about 125 years of power lines and dams. All you need to know is that we’re taking care of it and that it’s there for you when you need it. That’s reliability.