Apr 23 , 2012
Ashland customer praises employees for going the extra mile

Guest Blog Post by Brian Taylor
Medford, Oregon Gas Operations Manager

Antique range
Antique range
In my position as Gas Operations Manager in Medford, I hear from customers quite a bit, which I enjoy. One of the best parts of my job is when a customer goes above and beyond to simply thank our employees for work they did at a home or business. Recently a customer called after two of our employees spent time at her home ensuring the safe operation of her very antique range.

It’s easy to talk about customer service, but it’s another thing to actually do it - Avista employees Marty Moore and Eddie Randles live it.

In mid-March, Moore was at the Ashland customer’s home. Her antique range had a leak that needed to be fixed. Given the age and model of the appliance Moore was concerned that the customer would have trouble finding a dealer who could provide service. He called a few on her behalf and found no takers. So, when Moore was called away on an emergency call, he called in Randles, who was working on some natural gas pipelines nearby, to help out. This avoided immediately shutting the customer off.

Randles was able to fix the small leak around the control body seal. He also cleaned and adjusted the pilot light while he was in there. The range was so old that the name plate was faded. Despite that, he was able to get enough information about the range to find a dealer in California who still stocks parts for it. This information just might come in handy in the future.

Here’s the best part. The customer called and spoke to two different Customer Service Representatives about the employees who visited her home.

“She was absolutely amazed with all [Moore and Randles] have helped her with today,” wrote one CSR.

Another CSR wrote, “The serviceman was very professional, friendly and went above and beyond what she expected. He paid attention to detail and helped her with things she didn’t expect, every little detail to help her get back in service . . . She is very happy with Avista.”

We do little fixes, like this one, for customers all the time.  If a customer needs something extra and we can provide it without too much trouble, we’ll go ahead and do it. For the customer in Ashland with the antique range, these fixes went a long way.

Have you had a similar experience? Tell us about it in the comments.
Published: 4/23/2012  4:31 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Apr 20 , 2012
mini excavator
By knowing what’s below, contractors and homeowners are making wise decisions

Tim Sweet, co-owner of Clearwater Summit Group
Tim Sweet,
of Clearwater
Summit Group, Inc.
Guest Blog Post by: Tim Sweet, co-owner of Clearwater Summit Group, Inc.
A landscape design, construction and maintenance company
Digging in the dirt has been a part of my daily life for the last 29 years I have been in business. As the owner of a full-service landscape company, safety, as you can imagine is a huge focus in my line of work.

Landscaping in the Spokane and Couer d’Alene region is a seasonal operation which means tight schedules and deadlines. It is important for my company to have clear lines of communication between the project manager and crew, the homeowner, the general contractor and/or subcontractor and the utility locate company. In fact, Clearwater Summit Group is never bashful about calling in a utility locate. One wrong move can compromise the safety of our employees as well as cost us time, money and credibility with the homeowner or general contractor.
Color codes for locates
utility locates marked on ground
In order to maximize our efficiency and safe operations, we have a clearly defined process for calling in utility locates. Our one rule of thumb is to never assume anything. If there is a doubt, we encourage our employees to voice their concerns to the project manager.

Since April is National Safe Digging Month, we are making it our mission at Clearwater Summit Group is to educate our customers about using the 811 Call Before you Dig system. Many of our clients will add to their landscape year after year and we want them to be aware of how important it is to know what’s below the surface of their yards before they embark on any DIY projects. Please help us and Avista spread the word about the importance of using the 811 system.
A message about 811 from Avista
We are proud to post messages from members of the community who are interested in helping us spread the word about the importance of using the free 811 utility locate system. Safety and reliability are top priorities for customers and that’s important when it comes to natural gas. Last year there were 552 customer or contractor dig-ins to Avista’s underground natural gas lines. That’s 7.9 dig-ins for every 1,000 locates which is higher than the national average of 3.7. Avista’s goal is to reduce the number of dig-ins in 2012 by 10 percent to increase public safety and reduce costs.
Published: 4/20/2012  2:05 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Apr 18 , 2012
Local Spokane Artist,  George Roybal
Enter for a chance to win a custom designed and pained helmet by local artist, George Roybal

Post by Brandi Smith

April is National Call Before you Dig Month, and at Avista we are doing our best to get the word out about how important it is to use the free utility locate system before digging into the unknown territory below.

In honor of the occasion, we have partnered with the Inland Empire Utility Coordinating Council (IEUCC) to bring a custom made chopper designed by Paul Jr. Designs to Spokane at no cost. You may have seen him on the popular reality show, “American Chopper:  Senior vs. Junior” where the design and construction of the 811 Damage Prevention bike was featured.

Contest Entry tab on Facebook
To enter the contest go to
 “Like” our page and fill out the entry form.
It’s that easy.
Don’t delay however,
the contest ends on May 31.
But wait, there’s more. Avista is offering a chance for one lucky person, biker or not, to win and design his or her own custom painted motorcycle helmet with the help of Spokane artist George Roybal.

Meet the artist
Known as the "Purveyor of Potent Paint", George Roybal owns and operates Illustrated Air, a custom airbrush, pinstripe, and paint studio located in Spokane Valley, Wash. For over 16 years, George has transformed custom paint in the Inland Northwest. Renowned for his photo realistic airbrush work, he has garnered numerous "Best Paint" awards for his customers including The House Of Kolor "Prestigious Painter" award in 2002 on a 1995 Hummer painted with a cutting edge tribal graphic done entirely freehand.

What we are trying to say is that his work is awesome and you wouldn’t want to miss out on this golden opportunity to win something cool. Entering the contest is as easy as calling in a utility locate. All you have to do is be at least 18, “like” us on Facebook and fill out the entry form.

Why 811 is so important
Last year there were 552 customer or contractor dig-ins to Avista’s underground natural gas lines. That’s 7.9 dig-ins for every 1,000 locates which is higher than the national average of 3.7. Avista’s goal is to reduce the number of dig-ins in 2012 by 10 percent to increase public safety and reduce costs.

The new 811 Damage Prevention Bike created for One Call Concepts, Inc. will be at the May 18 Spokane Shock game and will be in the Spokane Lilac Festival Torchlight Parade and car show on May 19. Bringing the 811 Prevention Bike to Spokane for high-profile community events is one way that we can share with customers and the public about the importance of calling before beginning any project that involves digging.
If you have a project that needs a utility locate, call 811 or visit, www.call811.com to submit a request online. Simply click on the "local information" tab to get information on your state's utility locate service.

Published: 4/18/2012  10:28 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Apr 03 , 2012
Contractor dig-in causes gas outage impacting 105 homes or businesses; quick response gets customers relit in a hurry

Inspecting natural gas pipeline break.
An employee inspects the scene of a natural gas line
dig in at Dalton Gardens, Idaho last week. 105
homes or businesses were without gas overnight
during the repair and relight process.
When it comes to the 24/7-natural gas and electric service we all depend on, Avista’s top priority is to provide it safely and reliably. It is a commitment we all take seriously, and work hard to ensure every day.

An example of this occurred Monday, March 26 at a construction site in Dalton Gardens, Idaho. A contractor struck a four-inch steel natural gas line. The line break was blowing natural gas into the area. A four-inch line doesn’t seem big; however, that size natural gas pipeline can send natural gas to numerous commercial and residential buildings. For comparison, the internal diameter of a typical residential natural gas line is roughly three-quarters of an inch.

We received the emergency call around 4 p.m., just as our natural gas crews were getting ready to go home from their workday. A crew responded immediately to secure the area from potential danger and repair the natural gas line.

After working for nearly 24 hours between their normal workday and the emergency response, the three-man crew finished the repair.  Another crew arrived early in the morning to go door-to-door to all 105 businesses and residences to ensure their natural gas service was back on and to relight their natural gas appliances. 

Though larger natural gas line incidents rarely occur, you can count on us 24/7 when they do. That’s standing by our commitment to provide safe and reliable service to your homes and businesses.

What you should do if there is a gas leak outdoors
Below are some instructions on what to do if a natural gas line is ever struck or you believe there is a leak nearby.
When outdoors, look for these signs:
• Rotten egg odor in the air. We add an odorant that smells like rotten eggs so you’ll know right away if there is a problem.
• Blowing or hissing sound
• Dust blowing from a hole in the ground
• Continuous bubbling in wet or flooded areas
• Dead or discolored vegetation in an otherwise green area

In the event of a natural gas leak, your safety and of those around you are priority one. Any time you smell or hear a gas leak, take these precautions:

• Evacuate the immediate area. Leave immediately on foot in the direction away from where the gas is leaking. Warn others to keep away from the affected area.
• Call Avista Utilities at 1-800-227-9187, and stay on the phone with us until we have all the information we need to send help. Never assume someone else has already reported the leak.

Because natural gas is lighter than air, it becomes combustible when mixed with air and exposed to an ignition source. Don’t smoke, light matches, turn your electrical switches on or off, use the telephone or do anything else that might create a spark.

To report a life-threatening emergency, always call 911.

April is National Call Before You Dig Month
Spring is officially here; and with the warming of the season comes outdoor projects. Before you start digging any time of year, remember to make one easy phone call to 811 or a click of the mouse to http://www.call811.com to get your underground utility lines marked.
It’s easy and free. Just call 811 or request at http://www.call811.com at least two business days before you dig, and a professional locator will come to your proposed dig site to mark the approximate location of the lines. Once you know where they are, it’s safe to start digging.

Know what's below. Always call before you dig. You can find more information about the Call Before You Dig program at http://www.call811.com or at http://www.avistautilities.com (keyword search: call before you dig).
Published: 4/3/2012  9:54 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Apr 02 , 2012
We need to invest about $250 million each year over the next five years to continue updating and maintaining our system to serve our customers’ energy needs

Noxon Rapids Unit 4 turbine
The new Noxon Rapids Dam Unit 4 turbine is
lowered into place earlier this year. This 4-year,
$45-million project is coming to a close in 2012.
Pole replacement
An employee works to replace old wooden poles
(left) with a new steel structure (right). Steel
structures are more expensive, but typically last
longer than wooden ones.
New power lines
A line crew runs a new, higher-gauge power lines
over a two block distance in downtown Spokane.
Work like this ensures a more reliable system
that’s ready when you need it.
Working safely
An employee wears protective gear while using a
grinder at a natural gas job site in Spokane
Valley. We do our best to work safely on the
system that delivers you energy. 
Today Avista filed requests with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to increase overall net electric rates by 5.9 percent, and natural gas rates by 6.8 percent in Washington only. The UTC has up to 11 months to review the filings and issue a decision.
What does this mean to you? If you’re an Avista electric customer in Washington with average use and the Commission approves the requests, you would see an increase of $4.94 per month or about 16 cents a day, for a revised bill of $83.91. If you’re a natural gas customer in Washington with average use, you would see an increase of $4.23, or about 14 cents a day, for a revised monthly bill of $65.78.

So why is Avista asking for more rate increases? The simple answer is that it costs more each year to provide safe, reliable energy to you. Meeting our customers’ energy needs reliably and responsibly, while still complying with state and federal requirements, is our first obligation, even when it costs more.

About 40 percent of your electric bill and 35 percent of your natural gas bill covers the cost of delivery – the equipment and people needed to provide safe, reliable energy service to you. Maintaining and updating our generation plants (some that are more than 100 years old) and substations, along with more than 18,000 miles of power lines, a quarter of a million poles, and nearly 8,000 miles of gas pipeline, is a big job that doesn’t stop, and one that costs more each year. When we replace or update old equipment with new equipment and technology, it costs many times more than when it was installed. It’s much like when you update your older home or vehicle. Imagine replacing flooring, cabinets and appliances in a kitchen built 40 years ago, and how much more those items cost today than they did in the 1970s.

This was the primary reason for the proposed increase in our last request and we expect it to continue to cause a need for increased rates in the future. We’ll need to invest about $250 million each year over the next five years to continue updating and maintaining our system to serve our customers’ energy needs. And, while our customers still pay some of the lowest prices in the northwest, we’re not the only utility facing rising costs and an aging system.

Keeping rates increases as low as possible
Even so, we work hard to manage our own costs and keep rate increases as low as possible. In the filings, Avista proposed a proposed one-year Energy Recovery Mechanism bill decrease, which is a rebate to customers based on power supply costs, to help offset the increase. About 60 percent of a customer’s electric bill and 65 percent of a natural gas bill is the cost of generating or purchasing electricity and purchasing natural gas to meet customer needs. Power supply costs were lower in 2011, due to factors such as declining natural gas prices and favorable hydroelectric conditions.

We also proposed through this request to help ease the burden of the increase on low-income customers with increased funding for Avista’s energy assistance programs.

Don’t forget, Avista offers services for customers such as comfort level billing, payment arrangements and Customer Assistance Referral and Evaluation Services (CARES), which provides assistance to special-needs customers through referrals to area agencies and churches for help with housing, utilities, medical assistance and other needs. To learn more, visit www.avistautilities.com.

Executive salaries in Wash. rates aren’t going up
So what about executive salaries, and how much do the salaries and incentives of our executive officers affect your rates? Not as much as you might think. Avista has proposed that the amount of executive officer salaries and incentives included in rates remain at their 2011 levels.

Approximately 25% of total officer salary and incentives is included in Washington retail rates, which makes up less than ½ a penny of every dollar you pay in rates. This adds up to about 40 cents of your monthly bill if you’re an electric customer with average use, and less than 75 cents if you get both electric and natural gas service. The bottom line is executive salaries aren’t driving energy costs up, rather it’s the rising costs of doing business and taking care of our system.

We realize in these difficult economic times it can be a struggle for people to pay their energy bills. We’ll keep working to reduce costs and improve efficiency while continuing to provide reliable, responsible energy at some of the lowest prices in the Northwest.
Published: 4/2/2012  12:57 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Apr 02 , 2012
April is National Call Before You Dig month

Those boots are made for digging . . .
"Those boots are made for digging and that’s
just what they’ll do, but one of these days if you
don’t call 811" . . . OK, so song lyrics don’t really
fit here. Call 811 two days before digging to
locate underground utility lines. 
It’s April and that can mean oone thing. Yep, it’s National Call Before You Dig month.

To mark the month, the governors of Washington, Idaho and Oregon have again issued proclamations for their respective states recognizing April as Safe Digging Month and encouraging citizens to call the 811 one-call service two days in advance for free locates of underground utilities lines.

Not calling before starting those spring projects that involve digging could mean injury, damages to utilities and service disruptions, and potential fines and repair costs. A number of communications are planned this month to help make sure customers and contractors know the importance of calling 811 or going online at www.callbeforeyoudig.org to request a locate of underground lines.

Safety and reliability are top priorities for customers and that’s important when it comes to natural gas. Last year there were 552 customer or contractor dig-ins to Avista’s underground natural gas lines. That’s 7.9 dig-ins for every 1,000 locates which is higher than the national average of 3.7. Avista’s goal is to reduce the number of dig-ins in 2012 by 10 percent to increase public safety and reduce costs.
Published: 4/2/2012  9:12 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 23 , 2012
46 new trail lights a result of new natural gas pipeline serving Clarkston area

Post by Dan Kolbet
Lights on the trail
The lights on the left are a few of the 46 new lights
Avista installed on the Greenbelt Trail in Clarkston.
Avista recently installed the last of 46 safety lights along the Greenbelt Trail in Clarkston, Wash. The new lights turn on at dusk and help illuminate the popular recreation area. The project was born out of Avista’s new 2.8-mile natural gas pipeline extension in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley that will help reinforce gas service to Avista customers in the Clarkston area.

In order to install the new pipeline, Avista needed access to land managed by the Army Corp of Engineers. As in-kind consideration in lieu of fees for conducting this project, Avista agreed to install 46 lights along the trail from Chestnut Beach to Swallows Boat Ramp parking lot, at an approximate cost of $71,500.

“The new natural gas pipeline in Clarkston is great for the reliability of our service to customers in the area,” said Avista Regional Business Manager Mike Tatko. “But the Greenbelt Trail lighting project is another very visible benefit to Avista customers and all area residents who use the trail."

The natural gas pipeline project began in mid-July 2011 and was in service by December 2011, just in time to provide heat to homes and businesses during the colder winter months.  The lighting work began in December 2011 and was completed on March 16, 2012.

Avista owns and will maintain the lights along the trail. 

Published: 3/23/2012  9:36 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 21 , 2012
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Post by Dan Kolbet

Avista worked with crews for Northern Pipeline to relocate almost 2,000 feet of six-inch high pressure main in White City, Oregon over the last month. Work like this helps create reliable service for Avista natural gas customers.
This particular project, which shows your rate dollars at work, is estimated to cost around $250,000. These photos show some of the progress happening in the shadow of Mt. McLoughlin.
Published: 3/21/2012  2:52 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 20 , 2012
Post by Dan Kolbet
Today is the first day of Spring and right about the time most people start thinking about projects in the yard. (Disregard these crazy "yard work thoughts" if you saw snow in your yard today).
Before you start any project that requires digging, be sure to call 811 two days before you dig to locate underground utility lines. In 2011, there were 7.9 dig-ins on Avista’s natural gas system for every 1,000 locates, as compared to the national average of 3.7. Avista’s goal for 2012 is to reduce the number of dig-ins by 10 percent to increase public safety and reduce company costs.

It’s only three numbers; you can handle it – just call 811.
Published: 3/20/2012  3:24 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 15 , 2012
Crews brave the cold to bring reliable service to you in $1.4 million project
Post by Dan Kolbet

Reliability: Click to View Service Territory Map
If you’ve traveled along Highway 95 in North Idaho by Silverwood this winter, you may have seen Avista natural gas crews working alongside the busy highway. We wanted to let you know what they are up to. Our crews are relocating and increasing capacity for six miles of natural gas pipeline to accommodate a newly constructed highway.

The Idaho Department of Transportation is reconstructing a portion of Highway 95 from approximately Chilco to Athol.  The highway will expand from two to four lanes, which is great for safety and traffic, but means Avista’s existing 3-inch natural gas pipeline needs to move to a new right-of-way on the east side of the road.

Avista is expanding the capacity of the pipeline from 3 to 6 inches too. Expanded capacity helps serve existing customer needs and helps prepare our infrastructure for the future. The estimated cost for this project is around $1.4 million. Part of our requests for customer rate adjustments typically includes infrastructure work like this project.

You can see from the video that the crews are clearing a pathway, laying down 40-foot lengths of yellow plastic pipe, fusing them together and then burying the pipeline with sandy soil. The sandy soil protects the pipeline from being touched rocks or hard objects that could put pressure on the new pipeline. After the line is in place it will be pressure tested before being brought into service.

The project started in mid-December and should be completed by the end of March. One of the biggest hurdles the crews had to overcome in January and February was snow and frost. At times crews had to dig through 12 to 24 inches of frozen ground to make a trench that goes much deeper. Typically large projects like this aren’t completed during winter months, but Avista and other utilities agreed to do the work now to accommodate the Idaho Department of Transportation’s aggressive schedule. Snow means everything gets covered and can slow progress, but our crews are used to working through it.

For more stories about reliability, renewable energy, the environment, community, rates and more, visit us here at the Avista Blog often.

Much of this blog post was originally posted on Jan. 6 and 18.
Published: 3/15/2012  1:42 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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