Apr 13 , 2012
Wind and solar get the renewable headlines, but what about biomass and hydro?
At Avista we like to say that we were founded on renewable hydroelectricity. We’re proud of it. Even today the biggest resource percentage of generated or purchased power comes from hydroelectricity. Yet nationally, renewable energy tends to be framed around wind, solar and sometimes biomass and hydro. Where does Avista, biomass, hydroelectricity and your power fit in the renewable discussion?
Let’s start with hydroelectricity. Unlike much of the country, the Northwest benefits from having abundant hydroelectric resources. It’s good for all of us, because it’s in our backyard. It’s pretty tough to get a new hydroelectric project started in the United States, so the growth in this area generally comes from modernizing generation to make it more efficient. For the past decade or more we’ve been doing just that on the Clark Fork River
at our Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge dams.
Some of our hydroelectric dams on the Spokane River
are more than 100 years old, and since we need to keep those dams running responsibly and reliably, we’re always looking for ways to improve them. This year, we’re looking at upgrading parts of our Post Falls and Little Falls hydroelectric facilities. There’s no doubt about it, hydroelectricity is an important renewable resource.
Biomass is another example of renewable energy that doesn’t get much of the spotlight. Avista’s Kettle Falls biomass plant
was the first electric generating station of its kind constructed within the United States for the sole purpose of producing electricity from wood waste. It opened in October of 1983 – roughly 29 year ago. That’s a long history of renewable generation. Beginning in 2016 Washington will officially recognize its operations as a renewable resource for the purposes of meeting Washington state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).
Now for the hip, cool kids – wind and solar.
|A small solar array is affixed to the top of our
corporate headquarters today. It helps offset the
power we use to charge the Avista Sun Car.
Let’s talk solar first. Sure, the sun is free, but equipment involved in generating and delivering that power to the grid isn’t free - not by a long shot. In our area, given our other resources (like hydro), utility scale solar power isn’t in the cards, at least not today. We’re always on the lookout for proven resources, so that may change in the future, in fact a small solar array is affixed to the top of our corporate headquarters today. It helps offset the power we use to charge the Avista Sun Car.
Last, but certainly not least in this renewable roundup, is wind. Today Avista doesn’t generate any of its own power via wind, yet we’ve had a long-standing contract to buy wind power from the Stateline Wind Project on the Washington/Oregon border. Soon a new wind farm called Palouse Wind will come online near the town of Oakesdale and State Route 195 on the hills surrounding Naff Ridge. The project is being developed by First Wind, but Avista has secured the rights to its electrical output for next 30 years. Avista has been thinking about how to incorporate wind into our generation mix for several years, so it’s certainly on our minds.
As you can see, from hydro to biomass, and wind to (a little) solar, we’re all over this renewable thing.
For another look at Avista’s power generation and planning for the future, check out our Electric Integrated Resource Plan (IRP)
. The IRP analyzes and outlines a strategy to meet projected demand and renewable portfolio standards through energy efficiency and a careful mix of qualifying renewable and traditional energy resources
Renewable energy and you
Avista launched a Buck-A-Block
voluntary rate program for customers in 2002. The program is still going strong today with thousands of megawatt hours of emission-free wind being purchased annually. Nearly 4,000 customers participate. When you sign up for Buck-A-Block
, you make a voluntary payment above and beyond your normal rates. Avista makes no profit from that additional money, which goes to support the renewable energy many of our customers prefer by purchasing environmental offsets from renewable energy generation.
Apr 13 , 2012
Washington provides renewable designation after nearly 29 years of clean operations
You probably don’t hear a lot about Avista’s Kettle Falls biomass plant. You also don’t see much about it or smell much of it either. You see, Kettle Falls pretty much keeps to itself, steadily cranking out electricity. But recently the plant was given a distinction that many people assumed all along – Kettle Falls and its biomass operation will be recognized as renewable by the state of Washington.
Earlier this month Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed SB5575 into law. The bill qualifies legacy biomass energy projects (built before 1999) as eligible renewable resources for purposes of meeting Washington state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). As a result of the bill’s passage, the energy generated at Kettle Falls will qualify to meet our renewable requirements in Washington beginning in 2016.
This passage of the bill is good news for our communities, particularly those in and around Kettle Falls. It will promote employment and preserve jobs at a time when rural economies are suffering. Avista employees at Kettle Falls are members of and contribute to their local communities, and Kettle Falls provides work to local sawmills, fuel delivery businesses, transportation companies and forest workers.
Kettle Falls and biomass: How’s it work?
Wood waste – called “hog fuel” – is fed into a seven-story furnace/boiler and burned, creating heat. The walls of the furnace/boiler consist of pipes filled with water that are heated by the burning hog fuel. The optimal burning temperature is 2,000 degrees, resulting in a steam temperature of 950 degrees. The heated water generates stream and pressure that drives a turbine, which turns a generator, creating electricity.
So, while you might not hear, see or smell a lot about Kettle Falls, now you know it’s cranking out renewable energy.
Apr 13 , 2012
An artist rendering of the Palouse Wind project.
Avista owns right to wind power for 30 years
This fall when you drive down from Spokane to Pullman for a Cougar football game or if you’re just passing through the Palouse, you‘re likely to see some new scenery – wind turbines. First Wind is constructing a new wind farm called Palouse Wind between Oakesdale and State Route 195. Last year Avista signed a 30-year power purchase agreement for the renewable power generated at the site.
The wind farm is expected be the largest renewable energy facility in Whitman County with the capacity to generate enough clean, renewable energy to power about 30,000 homes.
An official groundbreaking is planned this spring, but work for permitting and some construction work is already underway. One of Avista’s projects in preparation for the new wind energy is construction of a switching station needed to move the new electricity generated at the wind farm onto our transmission system.
The turbines and their massive blades will be shipped from Colorado to Washington by train and eventually be transferred to trucks to get to the site. It should be a site to see.
We’ll update the blog with new video, photos and information on the project as it progresses.
Apr 12 , 2012
Thanks to a partnership between Avista, The City of Sandpoint, Keokee Publishing and Northland Communications, a pair of osprey in Sandpoint have a new home – and even better, the community can watch while the pair finishes their nest and settles in – that is, if they decide to stay.
The new webcam at Sandpoint’s Memorial Field came online last week, and has picked up quite a bit of activity in the past several days, including several drop-ins by single osprey, and a pair who just yesterday visited the nest several times, going so far as bringing at least one stick back to the nest.
The cam was installed as a collaborative project between the City of Sandpoint and Keokee Publishing, in partnership with Avista and Northland Communications.
North Idaho is home to one the country's largest nesting population of ospreys, mostly due to the bounty of fish they are able to retrieve from our local bodies of water. Since fish count for 99 percent of their diet, it should come as no big surprise that they choose their homes near the beautiful lakes and rivers in our region. In fact, they usually pick a nesting location within three miles of a body of water and return to it year after year. These attractive raptors not only have great taste in housing locations, but they have a romantic side as well, as most of them mate for life. Many times the housing locations are on our electrical facilities.
Last year, the City of Sandpoint, as part of a series of upgrades at the city’s Memorial Field, replaced the field’s old, decrepit lights with new ones. Two of the old light poles had osprey nests built right atop the lights themselves. When those were removed, the city, with Avista’s help, built new nesting platforms in the park. The idea of the web cam was born shortly thereafter, with a goal of educating the public about the raptors.
Avista has ongoing programs in raptor protection, which include public education and outreach, retrofitting our poles to support nesting raptors and adopting management practices that protect birds and other wildlife. This project fits perfectly with that commitment.
The new web is streamed onto a special section of Sandpoint Online.
Take a peek now at www.sandpointonline.com/ospreys
Mar 05 , 2012
A first-hand account of my experience with Avista's home energy audit program
The blower door test detects excess air escaping and entering
For about the same price as you’d pay for a nice dinner out or a ski lift ticket on Mount Spokane, you can purchase an in-home energy audit if you live within Spokane County. Sure, dinner or skiing sounds like much more fun, but a home energy audit provides a lot of advantages, some obvious and some not so obvious. Here are five reasons why you should consider signing up for an audit with Avista Utilities. I just had my audit done last weekend, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.
1. A home energy audit can save your life. If your home uses natural gas or propane, the certified home energy contractor may find safety hazards, such as an appliance or furnace that produces unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. Peace of mind is priceless and it’s always nice to know if your home passes the test or not.
2. For as low as $49, you get a tremendous amount of value
out of a home energy audit. Not only does a professional certified contractor inspect your home, but after the audit you get a box full of energy efficiency goodies from Avista. (see photo) Our home energy auditors were BPI Certified,
which is the standard for all Avista in-home energy audit contractors.
3. What you find out may surprise you. Home energy pros can find problems and opportunities that you might miss – even if you are a devoted energy saver, the pros have equipment that finds problems that might otherwise have gone unnoticed such as pesky leaks in your home’s ductwork.
4. The blower door test is as cool as it sounds. Oh my goodness, you will be shocked by how many air leaks this technology detects in your home. The blower door is a tool that depressurizes your home and stimulates a 20 mph wind blowing on all surfaces of your home simultaneously. This causes outside air to rush through holes in your home’s exterior envelope. The largest air leak in my home was coming from the flue vent in our unfinished basement. We can easily remedy that by capping the vent. Something we never would have thought of before this audit. Outlets and light switches are also a common culprit. Avista provides outlet and light switch insulators in the goody box provided to you at the end of your audit.
With every home energy audit, you get a
box full of items that will help you
improve your homes energy efficiency.
5. Knowledge is the key to savings.
Ever wonder how your energy use compares to others? After your in-home audit, you get a detailed report in the mail about your homes energy use as well as helpful recommendations on what you can do to increase the energy efficiency of your home. In my opinion, this is one of the most valuable pieces of information a homeowner can have. The recommendations will help me prioritize my home improvement projects for years to come.
Are you ready to maximize your energy efficiency? Good! Find out if your home qualifies for the in-home energy audit here.
You can also find more information about Avista’s energy efficiency programs at everylittlebit.com.
Once you have registered for the In-Home Energy Audit, completed the Online Home Energy Analyzer, and your payment has been received by Avista, a representative from one of Avista’s certified home energy auditing contractors will call you within 10 business days of the receipt of your payment to schedule your in-home energy audit.
The popular program is ending in September so make sure to sign up for an audit by August 15.
Feb 06 , 2012
By Brandi Smith
Avista recently sent out the latest issue of the Spokane River Newsletter, a quarterly publication that keeps subscribers informed about our activities in and around the Spokane River. Below is an article from the newsletter that describes how we operate the Post Falls Dam during the winter season. Check out the latest issue
and learn more about what Avista has been up to.
Winter river flows and Coeur d’Alene Lake levels
People commonly think floods occur in the spring. But did you know many of the highest levels recorded for Coeur d’Alene Lake have occurred in the winter? For example, on Christmas day in 1933 the lake reached an all-time peak of roughly eleven feet over its summer level.
Coeur d’Alene Lake is a natural lake with an outlet that naturally restricts its outflow. The primary sources of water into the lake are the St. Joe, St. Maries and Coeur d’Alene rivers. The water then flows through the outlet to create the Spokane River. Avista’s Post Falls Hydroelectric Dam is on the Spokane River, nine miles downstream of the lake’s outlet. The dam affects Coeur d’Alene Lake elevation for about half of the year. During winter and spring, lake levels are controlled entirely by the natural outlet restriction and inflows.
The winter months are generally the wet season in our region. Fluctuating temperatures, rain that occurs on top of snow, or extended heavy rain can increase flows rapidly, which in turn can result in quickly-rising river and lake elevations.
Avista’s goal each year is to draw Coeur d’Alene Lake down six to seven feet below the summer level by early January. This allows Post Falls Dam to generate electricity while providing capacity in the lake for later precipitation and runoff. Natural inflows usually exceed our turbine capacity early in the year, letting Coeur d’Alene Lake and the Spokane River find their naturally occurring levels with no influence by the dam. This free flow condition typically continues through spring run-off until late May, June or early July.
River and lake levels can change quickly. We want you to stay safe, so always use caution on the water and comply with all posted notices and closures, especially in the vicinity.
Avista has a 24-hour telephone information line that provides notification of anticipated elevation changes on Coeur d’Alene Lake, Lake Spokane and the Spokane River.
In Idaho, call (208) 769-1357, in Washington call (509) 495-8043
Other stories you might enjoy:
Dec 22 , 2011
By Dan Kolbet
The New York Times blog Green, which focuses on energy and the environment, recently featured Avista’s innovative Bull Trout genetic testing work on the Clark Fork River. We’re doing the project as part of our FERC license to operate the Cabinet Gorge and Noxon Rapids dams on the river. The ultimate goal is to protect the genetic integrity of the fish and boost their numbers. It’s a pretty cool project and it’s nice to see this national recognition.
Here are the first couple paragraphs of the article. See the full article here.
Trucking Trout to Their Native Streams
By Deborah Weisberg, NY TImes
In an innovative conservation effort, biologists on the Clark Fork River are using genetic testing to help get bull trout back to their natal streams to spawn.
Fulfilling a requirement for the relicensing of its two hydroelectric power plants on the river in Idaho and Montana, Avista Utilities is having the fin tissue of randomly caught adult bull trout “fingerprinted.” Juvenile fish in the natal streams are also sampled to determine whether they carry the DNA of the adults.
Continue Reading at the New York Times website here.
Nov 07 , 2011
Avista employees rescue stranded shopping cart, remove rusted blight from Spokane River
When Avista’s Ben McArthur saw an unsightly blight in the middle of the Spokane River, near the Hamilton Street Bridge, he didn’t ignore it like the thousands of others who passed by it every day. He and his co-workers took action. A red grocery store shopping cart had found its way onto a small island in the middle of the river. No one is sure exactly how it got there. Low water levels made it stand out.
McArthur and friends would have none of it. McArthur contacted fellow employee Celene Olgeirsson who just happens to be the President of the Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club. As an experienced kayaker Olgeirsson had the right equipment and knowledge to do the heavy lifting in the water and ensure the safety of all involved.
McArthur and Olgeirsson, with the help of another Avista employee, Ray Burnham, spent a lunch hour near the end of October on the project. On a crisp, clear day, Olgeirsson glided out to the island and attached a rope to the cart, while those on shore pulled it in. The whole deal took only 45 minutes.
Avista employees do an annual volunteer river clean up near the Mission Campus and regularly find large discarded items on Avista’s adopted mile of the Centennial Trail – shopping carts, tires and furniture included. Rarely do items make it so far into the river.
McArthur returned the cart to store employees, who promised to properly dispose of the wreckage.
Kudos to McArthur, Olgeirsson and Burnham for bettering the Spokane River for the community.
River users should be sure to follow all posted safety warning and closure signs on the water and especially near hydroelectric facilities. For more information about safety in the river and near dams, click here.
Oct 13 , 2011
Avista employees and contractors commended for overhead to underground power line work for the Priest River Experimental Forest
Avista recently converted two miles of overhead electric lines to underground service for the Priest River Experimental Forest.
Located about 13 miles Northeast of Priest River, the Priest River Experimental Forest
, established in 1911, is one of the first and few experimental forests in the nation. This month, it is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. Avista’s professional and efficient work to convert lines to underground has helped improve service reliability and a more aesthetically pleasing environment.
For 100 years, scientists and forestry service personnel at the Priest River Experimental Forest have conducted research ranging from timber management to fire research. Research done at Priest River Experimental Forest continues to benefit forests throughout the world.
Below is a letter of thanks, sent to Director of Operations – West Al Fisher from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Robert Denner, supervisory forester of the Priest River Experimental Forest and Dr. Russel Graham, scientist-in-charge of the Rocky Mountain Research Station.
The work mentioned in the letter was thanks to several Avista employees who work in the area. The letter reads:
Dear Mr. Fisher:
I want to take this opportunity to thank Avista for the recently completed project at the Priest River Experimental Forest. This project converted the overhead lines providing power to residences, office, shop, and conference building to underground.
The end result vastly improves the visual quality of the site, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. But more importantly, will eliminate outages caused by falling trees, reduce your maintenance costs, and the inconvenience to our resident and guests during outages. I should also mention that the Forest is about to enter its 100th anniversary, so the timing of the work could not have been better.
I was particularly impressed by the professional manner in which the work was done. The plowing contractor, your own crew, and the local representative, Chad Summers, went about their work in a courteous and efficient manner. We did have some tense moments when avoiding buried telephone lines, water mains, sewer lines, and foundation drains; however, nothing was damaged and there were no interruptions to our infrastructure. No doubt the competency of your employees had everything to do with that. I should also mention that the final clean-up was beyond my expectations and for that I am grateful.
Again, thank you for making this happen. And congratulations for having an outstanding bunch of guys working for Avista.
-Robert Denner, U.S. Department of Agriculture, supervisory forester of the Priest River Experimental Forest and Dr. Russel Graham, scientist-in-charge of the Rocky Mountain Research Station.
Jul 27 , 2011
The Spokane River is one of the most striking and scenic centerpieces of our community. It has a rich cultural history, and provides habitat for fish and other aquatic life as well as an abundance of recreational activities.
At Avista, we work hard to be good stewards of this vital resource as we operate our dams to provide clean, reliable, and cost effective energy to our customers. Today, we sent out the first issue of the Spokane River Newsletter, a quarterly publication that will be distributed to those who are interested in learning more about our activities in and around the Spokane River. The newsletter will not only keep you informed about current news, but it will introduce you to some of the people who take care of our natural resources. Each season, Avista plans to distribute the newsletter to stakeholders, employees, customers and others who sign up for it