Aug 31 , 2012
Avista’s aesthetic spills project benefits begin to unfold as water levels decrease
These two photos of Spokane River’s north channel
in Riverfront Park illustrate the difference Avista’s
aesthetic spills project makes. The one on the top
was taken before the project began, with river flows
at 500 cubic feet per second (CFS). The one on the
bottom was taken this month, with river flows at 300
What a difference an aesthetic flows project makes.
If you compare the river during this time of year to
years past, you will notice the falls are flowing with
water. These photos were taken from Post Street
Bridge facing east towards Canada Island in River
-front Park. The top photo was taken before the
project began, with river flows at 500 cubic feet per
second (CFS). The photo at the bottom was taken
this month, with river flows at 300 CFS. Even though
there is less water flow, restoring the riverbed to
more of a natural state provides many aesthetic
and environmental benefits.
If you live in or visit Spokane in the final weeks of summer, you might take the opportunity to go look at the north and south channels of the Spokane River flows
in Riverfront Park. If you compare the river during this time of year to years past, you will notice the falls are flowing with water.
Each summer, usually in July or August, river flows decrease substantially. In the past, this left the two channels dry with just a trickle of water flowing through the south channel.
In the summer of 2010, as part of the aesthetic spills requirement in our federal license to operate Upper Falls Dam, Avista and several stakeholder groups took part in a assessing test flows to determine whether permanent channel modifications could enhance the view of the river during periods of low river flow. These groups, including the City of Spokane
, Friends of the Falls
, Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club
, the Friends of the Centennial Trail
and The Sierra Club
were trying to learn whether the same or better, aesthetic effects could be achieved with 300 cubic feet per second (CFS) flowing through the two channels, than 500 CFS would without modifications.
During the aesthetic spill test, biologists also assessed the impact of potential channel modifications to fish and fish habitat in the river through the park and downstream.
The test was successful, and last year, Avista and its contractors, Land Expressions LLC
, gave the south and north channels a makeover to help restore the Spokane River’s beauty to a more natural state, the way it once was before early developers in Spokane cut into the bedrock to collect water during dry times. The enhancements, using “weirs"
that look like the natural bedrock in the river, spread water more evenly throughout the Upper Falls’ two channels that run north and south of Canada Island. Combined, they produce an aesthetically pleasing flow of water that viewers can enjoy throughout the year.
“Avista and our contractors took a new and creative approach to restoring the falls to a more natural state,” said Spokane River License Manager Speed Fitzhugh. “We matched the color, shape and texture of the weirs to that of the bedrock to produce seamless, natural looking river flows. As far as we’ve been able to determine, it’s the first project of its kind in North America.”
You may remember this year we had a longer than normal run-off season, with high, fast river flows in the Spokane and other area rivers. Thanks to the collaborative effort of Avista, our stakeholders and contractors, visitors to downtown Spokane no longer have to look at a dry riverbed during the warm summer days.
Protecting natural resources and operating our dams responsibly helps us continue to generate clean, reliable and cost-effective hydroelectric power for our customers. Last year’s aesthetic spills project on the Spokane River has improved the scenery in downtown Spokane and recreated habitat for fish, birds, and other local wildlife, something that we can all be proud of for generations to come.
If you pig out in the park this weekend, check out the falls
If you happen to visit Riverfront Park for Pig Out in the Park or for any other event or reason, you can check out the falls yourself. KXLY’s Jeff Humphrey covered the aesthetic spills project in this week’s news and interviewed Avista’s Spokane River License Manager, Speed Fitzhugh.
Aug 30 , 2012
When you think about how your electricity is generated you probably think it comes mainly from hydropower
. But did you know that Avista also uses natural gas as a fuel to generate electricity? In fact, it makes up 36% of our company owned electric power plants
. Natural gas generation is a dependable source of energy because the fuel can be stored to generate electricity anytime, and it has about half the carbon emissions of other fossil fuels, such as coal.
Avista and Portland General Electric co-own a combined cycle natural gas plant called Coyote Springs, located in Boardman, Oregon. The plant has 2 main generation units, and Avista owns Unit 2.
A combined cycle plant has a gas turbine and a steam unit all in one. These types of units are considered very efficient because they use the waste heat from the gas turbine to create steam, instead of exhausting it back into the atmosphere.
Unlike a simple cycle gas plant, which can be fired up quickly to meet the electricity generation needs of customers, the combined cycle plant at Coyote Springs is considered a “base load” facility because the natural gas generator needs to run consistently in order to provide heat for the steam generator.
Like a car, there are certain maintenance activities that need to take place after a number of years. This year, unit 2 had its first scheduled major maintenance since the unit went in service in 2002.
The project involves overhauling the natural gas and steam generators in unit 2. From start to finish, the project takes approximately six weeks to complete and a great deal of collaboration and teamwork.
The end result of the maintenance is that Unit 2 at Coyote Springs will continue to have the capacity to generate an average of 280 megawatts of power for our customers – that’s enough electricity for just over 210,000 homes.
Aug 29 , 2012
Requested two-phase Oregon natural gas decrease equals 10.1% for residential customers
We’ve got good news to share about natural gas rates for our 96,000 Oregon customers. Today Avista filed requests
with the Public Utility Commission of Oregon for a natural gas rate decrease for Oregon customers in the coming months.
Each year, we propose to adjust rates our customers pay
so that customers’ bills reflect our actual costs of purchasing natural gas and generating and purchasing electric power. Today’s requested rate reductions are largely due to lower natural gas wholesale prices, which is good news for our customers.
If you are a customer in Oregon, you have been seeing the benefits of increased natural gas supply and lower prices for some time. If this request is approved, including other rate adjustments proposed by Avista and approved by the commission, you could see your rates decrease to near-2004 levels. If today’s requests are approved by the Commission, you would see two rate decreases: the first beginning Nov. 1, 2012, and the second beginning Jan. 1, 2013.
If the requests are approved and you are a residential customer using an average 47 therms a month, you could expect your bill to decrease by $5.78, or 9.3%, for a revised monthly bill of $56.22 beginning November 1, 2012. You would see an additional decrease of $0.50, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, for a total decrease of $6.28, or an overall decrease of 10.1%, for a revised monthly bill of $55.72. Other customer groups could also expect decreases in a similar range.
Learn more about this Oregon natural gas rate decrease request in news release
we just issued.
Aug 28 , 2012
Avista was truly “Human Powered” last week thanks to more than 120 employees who generously volunteered their time for the Salvation Army Backpack for Kids giveaway or helped us organize, set up and staff the Avista Energy Fair 2012 at the event. In the lead-up to the big day, employees donated more than $1,700, which was matched by a $500 contribution from Avista. Three bins of school supplies were also donated by our generous co-workers in Spokane.
The event began at 8 a.m. with a line that stretched around a city block. When the last backpack was given out at 6:30 p.m., more than 1,500 families had received a total of 3,614 backpacks, many of which were proudly worn by their new owners. For the 137 kids who were placed on a waiting list when the backpacks ran out, their wait for school supplies won’t last long. Avista has donated an additional $2,000 to the Salvation Army to purchase the packs and the learning tools that go inside.
The day and what it meant to our employees is best summed up in their own words:
“What an important service to the families and children who so desperately need support – and the joy that it brought the children to have a new, beautiful backpack of their very own! We were so grateful to be able to share the opportunity for our employees to volunteer and see firsthand the important work that you (Salvation Army) do in our community for the same families who are also our customers.”
-Anne Marie Axworthy, Director of Consumer Affairs
“Having only been employed with Avista for about two months, it hasn’t taken long to find out that Avista truly lives out its commitment to give back to the communities it serves. This commitment was displayed early in the process through communication at both the corporate and departmental levels encouraging employees to participate, and by providing the work schedule flexibility to allow me to be able to volunteer. However, what really cemented Avista’s commitment for me, was when I did a double take when I realized Scott Morris was driving the shuttle van I was riding to the event. It was amazing to me the number of parents that expressed their gratitude for our participation in helping to get their children something as simple as a backpack for school.”
-Bob Brandkamp, Risk Management Analyst
“It’s eye-opening anytime I do community service with low income people. I registered people as they came in, and I had to ask what their monthly income was. The answers were astounding, how little people live on in our community. These are people with kids my kids’ ages. I feel fortunate to be in the position I'm in. It’s great that Avista partners with organizations like the Salvation Army.
-Lamont Miles, Design Integration Manager
“It was very nice for Avista to put the opportunity out there for us to volunteer. It’s hard for my wife and I to know where to volunteer and this gave us a way to help in the community.”
-Brian Hosig, Residential Meterman
“I saw a lot of people with pride and dignity; people who appreciated what was given to them. They were surprised we had an Avista goody bag. I'm glad I did it. It meant a lot to me.”
-Roxanne Williams, Energy Efficiency Program Rep.
“I volunteered with my son, Patrick. I thought it was good for him to see the need out there. He's pretty sheltered with dinner at home every night and the school supplies we purchase for him. It was good for him to see the other side of the coin -- how much need there is. It was startling to see what some people are surviving on every month with several children. It’s Important to go to school that first day and start off on the right foot. How devastating it would be for kids to go to school without school supplies.”
-Debbie Deubel, Construction Standards Technician
And finally from Capt. Kyle Smith, Spokane Corps Officer, The Salvation Army Spokane Regional Services:
“Having such a wonderful group of volunteers from Avista was extremely helpful. Your employees’ big smiles and willingness to jump in wherever needed made the difference. One of my favorite words is "synergy." Yesterday I think we experienced synergy in action. We all achieved far more working together than we could have done apart. Thanks again for being good neighbors.”
Aug 20 , 2012
The cold weather is coming - attend an Energy Fair and be ready
The Avista Energy Fair 2012
is coming to locations in the Inland Northwest. It will offer demonstrations of ways to keep homes warm and safe for the winter ahead. Fair attendees can speak with Avista staff and learn first-hand about low-cost and no-cost energy efficiency tips. They’ll see how to install window draft stoppers like rope caulk, window plastic and v-seal. Free samples of these and other materials to help people maximize energy efficiency in their homes will be given out at the fair.
In addition, Avista employees will have information about billing assistance and payment options. Avista community partners will also be on hand to offer helpful information about other community resources.
For the kids, and the kids at heart, Wattson, Avista’s Energy Watchdog, will be on hand to share his message of energy efficiency and safety.
Each year our customers ask for help in managing their energy use and costs during the winter. It’s never too early in the year for us to offer a broad range of ideas and demonstrations that will help residents keep the warm air inside and the cold air outside their homes. This event provides a great way for customers to conveniently access Avista’s many services. Information about payment options
, energy assistance
and energy efficiency
will be especially helpful to those struggling to pay their bills.
Please join us.
• August 23, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. – Salvation Army, 222 E. Indiana Ave. Spokane, WA
• September 11, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. – Lewiston Community Center, 1424 Main St., Lewiston, ID
• October 10, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. – Harding Family Center, 411 N. 15th St., Coeur d’Alene, ID
• November 8, 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. – East Central Community Center, 500 S. Stone St., Spokane, WA
Aug 17 , 2012
Aug 17 , 2012
Across our three-state service territory and into western Montana, Avista employees are active volunteers in the communities where they live and work. In fact, in 2011 they logged more than 52,000 hours of community service in more than 1,000 organizations. Community partnerships are a valued part of Avista’s culture, bringing value to both the people served and to the individual volunteer.
Historically, we’ve been pretty quiet about the positive impact our employees make through their community work. However, we think it’s time that they get the recognition they so richly deserve for the important work they do both during and after work hours. Employee volunteerism is one element of Avista’s Community Impact section of our 2012 performance report titled “Together We Will Build Shared Value.”
We encourage you to take a few minutes to read the report and if you feel so inclined, to give us your feedback
Spokane’s Journal of Business recently ran an article
highlighting four Avista employees and the volunteer work they do, including delivering Meals on Wheels and serving as a volunteer firefighter. It provides a good look at how Avista incorporates volunteerism into our company’s business while providing a cadre of talented and dedicated individuals to the service organizations in the communities we serve. We hope you will join us in saying thank you to our employees for their service.
Aug 16 , 2012
It takes a village to get natural gas delivered to your home safely, reliably and affordably
In our previous articles, Natural Gas Pricing 101, Part 1
and Part 2
, we explained that more than half of a customer's monthly natural gas bill is the cost of the natural gas we purchase on the wholesale natural gas market and the transportation costs to get that natural gas to our system. The remaining portion of the bill, about 45 percent – or 45 cents of every dollar a customer pays for natural gas – covers our costs of delivering natural gas to a home or business.
If you’re a Washington natural gas customer, your
rates are at levels similar to those from 2003. (click
on image above and below to enlarge)
Did you know our customers are paying less today for natural gas than they were 10 years ago when you adjust for inflation? This is mostly because of the declining prices of natural gas on the wholesale market. As the chart shows, if you’re a Washington natural gas customer, your rates are at levels similar to those from 2003. When adjusted for inflation, natural gas rates in both Idaho and Washington have stayed fairly level over the past 50 years.
How do rising delivery costs impact your natural gas bill?
Avista takes the responsibility of maintaining and updating our natural gas delivery system seriously. We have an obligation to serve every customer who requests service and to comply with state and federal requirements. Safety and reliability are paramount to our operations.
Just like upgrading or replacing items in your own home, when we replace or upgrade older equipment, the cost of that equipment is many times more expensive than when it was originally installed. Capital investments like these, which are required to ensure the ongoing delivery of natural gas, along with rising operations and maintenance costs, continue to drive the need for increased rates. For instance, we’re working to replace miles of natural gas pipeline that has reached the end of its service life. The six-month, $3 million project in Davenport, Wash. is just one example of our commitment to maintain and upgrade our natural gas pipeline.
We file requests to recover these costs through our general rate cases, like the one we made to the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission in April of 2012. State regulators provide Avista the opportunity to earn a fair return, or profit, on the investment our shareholders have made in the facilities used to provide service to customers. The key word there is “fair,” and here’s how it works: When our costs change, Avista files a request with the state regulatory commission for a rate change. The commission scrutinizes every detail of our costs, reviews volumes of data and takes public testimony. Based on its investigation, the commission sets rates it believes serve the public interest – rates that are reasonable and fair for customers, while allowing Avista the opportunity to be a viable, healthy business and earn a fair return for shareholders, and enabling us to continue delivering safe, reliable energy.
In our last article,
we mentioned Purchased Gas Adjustment (PGA) filings. PGA filings are usually separate from general rate requests, and there are times when one of our state commissions may be reviewing a PGA request to decrease rates based on wholesale natural gas costs, while at the same time reviewing a general rate request to increase rates based on rising capital costs. Since we serve electric and natural gas customers in three different states it can be confusing for our customers to keep track of rate filings and rate changes. But as a regulated, investor-owned utility, we have to comply with the regulations set by the utility commissions in the three states where we serve customers, and we can’t increase or decrease rates without receiving approval from the commissions.
Here’s the bottom line: while the wholesale price of natural gas has declined over the past few years, the cost of delivering that natural gas continues to rise, and natural gas rates include both of these costs. Avista works hard to manage costs, improve efficiency and productivity, and be smart about how we purchase natural gas. We take pride in maintaining a system that keeps natural gas safe, reliable and as low-cost as possible.
This wraps up our three-part “Natural Gas 101” series. We’d love to hear your comments and questions. Please direct them to Communications Manager, Anna Scarlett
. Read our previous articles at the links below.
Read the series
Aug 16 , 2012
Avista to purchase more CNG bi-fuel vehicles each year
Avista has a long tradition of being a wise steward of the environment. Recently, the Fleet Department aligned those goals when it comes to the vehicles we purchase.
“We are currently underway with a CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) initiative where we’re purchasing approximately 10-15 CNG Bi-Fuel vehicles a year,” said Fleet Manager, Chris Schlothauer. “Along with the vehicles, our existing CNG fueling infrastructure is currently being updated with bigger and better stations. These stations will accommodate our increased load from company-owned vehicles, along with the ability to provide this alternative fuel to the public at some point in the future.”
The latest addition to Avista’s alternative fuel fleet is a hybrid service truck that was built for Spokane Electric Line Operations.
The hybrid technology in this unit is a Jobsite Energy Management System. How it works: When the truck arrives at the worksite, the operator engages the Power Take-off (PTO) as normal but instead of the engine continuing to run, the engine is shut off and batteries provide the power to run the hydraulics in the boom. If the system gets below a certain voltage, the engine will automatically turn on to recharge the batteries and then will shut off again to go back on stored battery power. This is a particularly important feature, because operating on battery power, it will have very little noise impact in the residential neighborhoods where it typically works long hours.
“We’re very excited to implement both of these alternative fuel technologies in our fleet, said Schlothauer. “Both the CNG and hybrid technology help us in reducing our carbon emissions along with saving fuel dollars over the long run. As we continue to move forward, we’ll look at other alternative fuel opportunities that align with Avista’s focus on sustainable business practices and environmental stewardship, along with the operational benefits to the departments that use them.”
Aug 08 , 2012
How does Avista pass the costs of natural gas through to you? (Hint: we don’t mark it up!)
Click on the above image to enlarge the breakdown
example of a customer's natural gas bill.
You may have heard some good news
Avista shared last week with our Idaho customers. We filed requests with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to decrease natural gas and electric prices. If the request is approved, this will be the second natural gas price reduction this year in Idaho and natural gas rates will have decreased by more than 14 percent overall in 2012.
If you’re an Avista natural gas customer, you have some of the lowest natural gas rates in the Northwest, and the wholesale natural gas costs in your bill have also dropped significantly in recent years. In fact, through rate decreases proposed by Avista and approved by state regulators, Avista customers have seen the wholesale price of natural gas decrease by almost 50 percent since 2008.
But a 50 percent drop in wholesale prices doesn’t equate to a 50 percent reduction in your natural gas bill, because the rates you pay cover much more than just the wholesale cost of natural gas itself.
In our article last week,”Natural Gas Pricing 101, Part 1: Natural Gas Supply,”
we explained how the combined costs of purchasing natural gas on the wholesale market and having it transported to our distribution system for delivery to you is about 55 percent of your natural gas bill – or 55 cents of every dollar you pay for natural gas. We work hard to keep these costs as stable and low as possible.
Avista customer's have seen the wholesale price of
natural gas decrease by almost 50 percent since 2008.
Let’s break that 55 percent down even further. The wholesale cost of the natural gas itself is about 38 percent of your natural gas bill. Avista does not make a profit on the cost of natural gas that is purchased to meet customer needs. You pay what we pay. Another 17 percent of your natural gas bill is the costs of transporting the natural gas on pipelines from the source or supply basins to our distribution system for delivery to you. While we also don’t mark up or make a profit on transportation costs, they are fixed, and have not declined like the cost of the gas itself has in recent years.
The remaining portion of your bill, about 45 percent, covers the cost of the equipment and people it takes to safely and reliably deliver natural gas through our distribution system to your home or business. State regulators provide Avista the opportunity to earn a fair return, or profit, on the investment our shareholders have made in the facilities used to provide service to you, and we’ll talk more about that in our next article.
What exactly is a Purchased Gas Adjustment (PGA)?
So how do we pass wholesale natural gas and transportation costs through to you, whether it’s increases or decreases in wholesale prices, or changing transportation costs? We call it a Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment, or PGA.
Our customers love the benefits they get from natural gas, but they don’t want surprises, especially in their energy bills. Imagine if your natural gas prices fluctuated like gasoline prices do. You might see your natural gas rates rise and fall several times in a month.
To keep this from happening, once each year Avista requests an adjustment in the natural gas rates our customers pay, to reflect our actual costs of purchasing natural gas on the wholesale market and transporting it to our system for delivery. These PGA requests to the utility commissions in Washington, Idaho and Oregon are usually made annually in August or September, and the new rates take effect by winter. Additionally, when wholesale prices of natural gas change significantly, we can make requests at other times of the year.
When costs are down, it’s good news for our customers, and we want to pass these price decreases on as quickly as we can. So far in 2012, Avista has filed out-of-cycle PGA requests
with the utility commissions in Washington and Idaho, as well as our regular annual request in Idaho
to reduce natural gas prices. Decreases took effect March 1 for our first requests, and, if approved, a second decrease for Idaho customers will take effect Oct. 1.
In fact, since 2009, Avista has filed 20 PGA requests for our customers; seven in Washington, nine in Idaho and four in Oregon – of those, 14 were to reduce gas prices based on declining wholesale natural gas costs. We expect to file our regular annual PGA requests in Washington and Oregon in the coming months. These changes in natural gas costs and the PGA rate adjustments do not increase or decrease Avista’s earnings and must be approved by state regulatory commissions.
Electric customers benefit
Coyote Springs 2, pictured above, is a natural gas
fired plant that generates electricity for customers.
The declining cost of natural gas also benefits electric customers through lower overall power supply costs. When it costs Avista less to purchase the natural gas we use to fuel our natural gas-fired generation plants, we can pass those savings onto you as well. In the general rate request we filed in Washington state
in April, due in part to declining natural gas prices, we proposed a one-year Energy Recovery Mechanism rebate to reflect the overall decrease in costs to generate electricity for Washington customers. Also, as part of our Idaho requests last week, we proposed a Power Cost Adjustment reduction
for our Idaho customers.
So whether you are an electric or natural gas customer of Avista (or both), you’re seeing the benefits of natural gas abundance and low prices, and you have been for some time. But what does it take to deliver natural gas to your home and provide the service to keep it safe and reliable, and how are the costs of the “the pipes and people” it takes to do that reflected in your natural gas rates? We’ll talk more about that in our next article, “Natural Gas Pricing 101, Part 3: Natural Gas Delivery and Your Bill."