Aug 27 , 2010
Energy on the Street interview
Energy on the Street interview
Energy on the Street interview
Customers talk with Communications Manager Dan
Kolbet during Energy on the Street interviews.
Post by Dan Kolbet

I want to give a quick update on Energy on the Street. We’ve filmed answers for nearly all of the questions we’re placing on our website. Schedules have been a bit of a bear with summer vacations ending and I suspect we’ll get some more filming done within the next two weeks.

We had to create new pieces of the Avista Utilities website and I’ve received great support for the project from the guys building the pages. There’s nothing quite like starting from scratch, “Hey, I’ve got these videos I’d like to share with the world . . .”

If you haven’t heard yet, Energy on the Street is a project I’m working on that is all about your questions. The goal is to get Avista customers answers to their questions about energy and anything related to Avista. I attended several community events with a camera crew and captured customer questions. I took those questions back to Avista and asked my co-workers – experts on the subjects – to answer them on camera.

It’s been a great experience for me to meet so many different customers who I otherwise would probably never have talked to. The people I met were very nice, insightful individuals who had unique concerns and questions about the future of energy in our country and what their local utility is doing about it.

We’ll release the site to all of you in early September with six videos. I’ll post new videos every few weeks through the fall. My hope is that when people visit the site, they will come up with more questions that they want answers too and e-mail me at conversation@avistautilities.com. I’ll get those answers too. In fact, you can even shoot your question and we’ll use your actual video. Send me an e-mail and let’s get started. 

It sounds like we’re probably going to do some radio spots to promote the site and get customers (who aren’t regularly reading the Avista Blog) to know it’s out there. I haven’t done radio before so this will be a bit of a challenge, but I think I’ve been pretty open about my feelings about this project and I’ll do my best to share that during the radio spots. So if you hear some guy on the radio, calling himself “Dan at Avista,” yep, that’s me.

The countdown has started. I can’t wait to release the Energy on the Street site for you in early September.
Published: 8/27/2010  1:42 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 27 , 2010
Testing on the Spokane River
Note the white sandbags, called weirs, lined up in the Spokane River. These temporary dams help divert
water during the aesthetic spill tests. They will be removed from the river once testing is complete.
 
Post by Dan Kolbet

We received this message to
conversation@avistautilities.com yesterday from a concerned customer. I thought this might be a question that other customers may be asking, so I’ve posted the full e-mail and our reply below.

E-mail
I have seen the crews at work on the Aesthetic Spill Pilot Test in the River Front Park area. It appears the purpose of this pilot test is to assess the feasibility of diverting water that would normally flow through the south channel to the north channel. Do any practical benefits exist for this kind of diversion? Or, as the pilot study name suggests, are the benefits purely aesthetic?

If the no practical benefits exist, I object to the use of my utility rates for a purely aesthetic project which only benefits a small portion of the rate paying customers.

Please shed some light on the driving force for this project.
-Jesse

Reply
Dear Jesse, Thanks for your inquiry about the work being done on the Spokane River channels in Riverfront Park.

As you may know, we received a new operating license for our hydro facilities last year. With the new license came some new conditions that we are required to meet. Among those is an aesthetic spill in the north and middle channels of the river.

Currently the requirement is for a minimum 500 cfs to be diverted from the south channel. But there is a provision in the license that allows us to attempt to modify the riverbed so that we can make the flows just as appealing with only 300 cfs.

What we are doing is filling in the artificial cuts in the rock that were done in the early days of Spokane’s development. These were done to divert naturally low river flows to various mill wheels and laundries, etc. Those same cuts prevent the aesthetic affect that people want to see in the river.

Presently we have a group of stakeholders evaluating the modified river flows for the most effective configuration. Once that is established we can begin to make permanent modifications and hopefully divert less generating water from the powerhouse at Upper Falls.

I hope that addresses your concerns. Please let me know if you have further questions.

-Hugh Imhof, Avista Communications Manager
 
Published: 8/27/2010  9:01 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 12 , 2010
811 video, click to play
 
These guys always call before they dig.
Three of the fine gentlemen I met at Home Depot
who visited Avista's educational stations.
Post and video by Dan Kolbet

Yesterday was National 811 Awareness Day. Avista and the Spokane Valley Home Depot celebrated this day of safety with an in-store event. Avista staffed three booths throughout the store, each focusing on a different element of 811 and reminding us all to call two days before you dig on your property.

In the couple of hours I was there, Home Depot customers were visiting the booths and getting their “passports” signed. Visitors earned a T-Shirt for visiting two booths. Home Depot also donated a nice BBQ grill as a raffle prize.

Check out this minute and a half video about the event, featuring Operations Tech Alicia Gibbs. And remember to always call before you dig.
 
Published: 8/12/2010  8:04 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 16 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet

Our Energy on the Street project continues today with customer interviews in downtown Spokane, near the Spokane Transit Plaza and tonight at Avista Stadium before the ballgame starts. If you’ve got a question for Avista – one that you’ve always wanted to ask, but never really had the chance, come find me today. If you can’t make it to one of these locations, you can always send us an e-mail at Conversation@Avistautilities.com.

I’ve really enjoyed the two full days of customer interviews in Stevens County and Coeur d’Alene City Park. I’ve spoken to customers who have nothing but great things to say about our company and customer service, but also those who have criticized aspects of our business. Whichever category you fall into (maybe both), we want to hear from you – that’s the whole point of the Energy on the Street project. We’ll have customer questions and employee answers up on our website later this summer.
Published: 7/16/2010  8:58 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 13 , 2010
Chataqua 2010 interview
Chataqua 2010 inteview
Many attendees of Chataqua 2010, in Chewelah were kind enough to talk
energy with us last weekend. There is still time for you to participate,
contact us at Conversation@Avistautilities.com
Project gets answers to your most pressing energy questions

Post by Dan Kolbet

“Are you an Avista customer? Can I talk to you about energy?” I think I said that about a thousand times on Friday.

As part of a project called Energy on the Street, we’re interviewing Avista customers by getting their opinions and questions about energy on video. Friday I was at Chataqua 2010 in Chewelah, Wash., talking to customers from Stevens County (and all over Washington and Idaho) about what they care about regarding energy and Avista.

We’re not just getting questions from you – we’re answering them too. Avista employees are providing answers to these questions, also on camera. Both the question and the answer will be posted later this summer on our conversation website.

Want to get in on the action? We’ll be at Coeur d’Alene City Park tomorrow for a few hours starting at 11 a.m. On Friday we’ll be in downtown Spokane at or near the STA Plaza in the afternoon and then at the Avista Stadium outer concourse at 5:30 p.m. until game time.

Look for the white shirts that say “Avista” on the front and “Ask Avista” on the back. Trust me, you can’t miss us.

What are people asking? They want to know about rates and costs, energy efficiency, renewable power, climate change and what the future of energy really looks like. I was pleased with how open and willing the customers I met on Friday were to talk about energy, especially since we were grabbing them out of the blue during a community event.

If you’re interested in getting a question answered on camera by an Avista employee (and you can’t come to the events listed above), send us an e-mail at Conversation@Avistautilities.com
Published: 7/13/2010  3:38 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 16 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet

Back in March Avista filed for electric and natural gas rate increases in Idaho (and Washington). The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has up to seven months from the initial filing to make a ruling on our request.

One of the important steps in this transparent process is for the commission to hear from you directly. Today the commission announced public workshops where commission staff will provide customers an overview of our rate request application and answer questions. Avista representatives will also be on hand for the workshop.

The workshops are Monday night, June 28, at the Brammer Building, 1225 Idaho St., in Lewiston and Tuesday, June 29, in the student union building on the North Idaho College campus, 1000 W. Garden Ave., in Coeur d’Alene. Both workshops begin at 7 p.m.
 
Tell me more about Avista’s Idaho general rate request filed in March.

What about Washington?
Public hearings/workshops have not yet been announced by the WUTC, but we’ll keep you posted when the information is available.
 
Tell me more about Avista’s Washington general rate request filed in March.
 
 
Published: 6/16/2010  4:31 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 15 , 2010
The reservoir behind the Nine Mile Dam.
The reservoir behind Avista's Nine Mile Dam.

Spillway, other projects to begin summer 2010

Nine Mile Dam flashboard removal.
In March we removed 'flashboards' from
the Nine Mile Dam. See how it was done.
Avista will hold an information meeting at Lakeside High School tonight, June 15 at 6:30 p.m., to update interested residents, property owners and customers on projects that will take place beginning this summer at the Nine Mile Dam and reservoir.

The major project at Nine Mile Dam is installation of a new rubber spillway that will eliminate the need for the wooden flashboards. Construction on the new spillway will begin this summer, and will require an extended drawdown of the reservoir while work is in progress.

The new spillway will consist of a rubber bladder, which will raise and lower a metal plate when inflated and deflated respectively. The spillway will be much more flexible and precise when managing the reservoir elevation.
 
UPDATE: Read our June 17 post, "Nine Mile Dam Spillway Improvement Project starts this summer" for more details on the project.

Avista’s environmental and hydro operations staff will discuss the spillway project and future generation upgrades to the powerhouse. They will also discuss the environmental and recreation projects that are planned for the Nine Mile area.

The projects are part of Avista’s 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to operate its five Spokane River hydroelectric facilities (Post Falls, Upper Falls, Monroe Street, Nine Mile, and Long Lake).

For more information about the meeting, call Speed Fitzhugh at (509) 495-4998.
 
Published: 6/15/2010  11:30 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 10 , 2010
One birthday candle for our Blog's first year!
One birthday candle for the Avista Blog's first year!
 
Post by Dan Kolbet

Just about a year ago, Avista launched this blog. To be quite honest, I wasn’t certain we’d survive for more than six months or so. It wasn’t that I questioned our commitment, only that we’d never done it before – in fact very few utilities actually had a blog (and most still don’t). The idea of a blog was a foreign concept for the company, but also for customers. We’d never tried to have conversations with you in such a public way before – and we didn’t know how you’d all react.

It’s pretty clear on our one-year anniversary (or birthday if you will), that we’ve been successful. My criteria for this judgment is both anecdotal and factual. First off, this blog gets a few thousand hits each month, so I know it’s being read. Secondly, through e-mails, Twitter messages and discussion forum links, customers and other stakeholders are talking with us about the topics we’re writing about.

I often get asked about how many comments we receive on the blog. Not that many, but that’s not discouraging to me. While comments aren’t jamming my inbox – e-mails to conversation@avistautilities.com certainly are. Since June of last year, we’ve noted more than 900 individual e-mail conversations alone. We’ve made a commitment to personally respond to every customer who e-mails us. That surprises some people, who assume replies to our e-mail blasts go into a black hole. I like these interactions because people are plainspoken and honest – honest about their surprise that a large company such as ours would take the time to respond to their comments. We’ll continue to respond to your e-mails as long as you keep sending them.

Watch a video about Avista and social media
Watch a video about Avista and social media.
Avista's social media work has recieved regional and national attention.
Avista's social media work - especially on
discussion forums, has recieved regional and
national attention.
Since the blog is the centerpiece of our social media work, there are some ancillary pieces that keep us going. Avista has two Twitter accounts that keep track of the 140-character world out there. The @AvistaCares account is run by my co-worker and friend Jessie Wuerst, who focuses on those in need and talking about the communities we serve. My account @Dan_at_Avista helps promote the blog and interactions with customers. It’s also about my personal life and working at Avista. Never did I think 18 months ago, that Twitter would become a valuable tool for communications. It’s an early-warning system for outages and topics just bubbling to the surface. It’s also nice because it keeps each of us succinct in our tweets – poor grammar and abbreviations included. 

Another area that has drawn regional and even national attention is our participation in discussion forums, such as the comments section on local news outlets or blogs. Jumping into those discussions has been a challenge for me, given their immediacy for 24-hour-a-day responses, passionate participants and the fact that I’m often the ‘new kid’ in well-established online communities. But simply talking about the issues impacting Avista customers and providing answers when asked hasn’t been a challenge at all. It’s just a new place to talk about our company and customers, and provide direction when someone needs more information.
 
In our first post on June 1, 2009, I wrote this, “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.

We also hope that this conversation will allow us to better respond to your concerns, while giving you an inside look into our company. Transparency is a good thing.”

Those statements are still true a year later. As I look at what’s ahead for the next year, I’m excited to continue this conversation and further integrate guest bloggers, opinions, podcasts, videos – and you. Our Conversation pages are getting a facelift very soon and I hope you’ll like the changes and join in on the discussions.

I’m just an Avista employee, like everyone else here, but I have the privilege of representing Avista online and talking to you all through each post, tweet, e-mail or comment. I know these same types of conversations are happening in person everyday with my co-workers throughout our service territory and that makes me proud. So, on behalf of every Avista employee, thank you for visiting our site, reading the blog and having conversations with us over the past year – we’re glad you did. 
Published: 6/10/2010  12:32 PM | 1  Comment | 0  Links to this post

Apr 05 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet
Follow Dan on Twitter: Dan_at_Avista

Rates microsite
Over the past few weeks we’ve been posting a lot of materials on the blog and the rest of our website about our recently filed rate cases in Washington and Idaho. The more informed you are about our requests, the better you can form an opinion as an educated customer. No one around here is happy that we have to file rate cases for potential rate increases, but the fact is we must do so to operate the system our customers rely on.

Unless you’re me (or most Avista employees), you probably don’t go to bed every night thinking about energy – nor should you. That’s what we’re here for. As long as the lights turn on every day, the furnace fires up with natural gas every morning and your power is restored if it ever goes out, you probably don’t put much thought into your energy.

Of course we want you to take energy efficiency to heart, so don’t get me wrong, but for the most part, out of sight, out of mind, right? You think about us when the bill comes, or when it’s really cold outside and you know your home is cranking out the juice. Fair enough. Like I mentioned – that’s what we’re here for.

But, if in the next seven months (Idaho) or 11 months (Washington), as our electric and natural gas rate cases are being reviewed by state regulators, you want to learn more – check out this website. Here you can find out why we’ve requested rate increases and how they would impact you.

If you’ve got direct questions, we can handle those too, just drop us a note in the comments or e-mail us at conversation@avistautilities.com.
Published: 4/5/2010  11:50 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 30 , 2010

We’ve been engaging with customers online for some time now and over the last few weeks, I’ve spent a bit of time commenting on the discussion forums of our local news media. I’ve tried to correct misconceptions about our activities and direct people to places online where they can find more information about the subjects they are passionate about.

These customer outreach efforts drew the attention of The Spokesman-Review recently, because frankly, there aren’t many companies doing what we’re doing online. Yesterday reporter John Stucke’s question and answer with me ran and I was honored to participate and talk about our efforts online. Read the article, "Avista social media man talks his trade."

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that it’s the centerpiece of our social media efforts. We write posts, do videos and podcasts for the blog, while promoting that work on twitter and discussion forums. We’re also participating in chats and other activities that allow you to talk with us about what’s on your mind. We even did a video earlier this year that discussed our social media focus.

When stories about Avista run in the news or people write about us in any format, we pay attention (just like any other company). I read what people say and what sparks their interest. Oftentimes the comments following these stories contain common misconceptions about how we do things, and that’s when I step in to offer some additional thoughts. Most people are simply offering their opinion and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t aim to change anyone’s mind, just offer additional resources so people can decide for themselves. 

It’s certainly an interesting time to be online talking with people about the utility business – yes, even those who disagree with what we say or do. I’ll continue to talk to people online in reaction to comments and e-mails, but if you’d like us to spend some time talking about a particular subject on the blog, e-mail me at conversation@avistautilties.com.
 
Published: 3/30/2010  3:19 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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