Jul 01 , 2009
Post by Hugh Imhof

Recently we received an e-mail from Fred through the blog Contact page. He’s not alone, we’ve gotten more than 100 e-mails over the last week alone on a variety of subjects. Fred’s questions might be particularly interesting to other customers, so I’ve paraphrased them and the answers below.

Why doesn’t Avista provide time of day metering? Is it because of your hydro resources?
You are correct that hydropower is the main reason we don’t have time of day metering. In many states, where the power supply is largely from thermal resources such as coal, gas, oil, etc., time of day makes sense because there is a large differential in costs for peak load and low load power. The differential for us is very small. At some point things may change as loads grow and different resources are added.

Do you have programs to incentivize homeowners to install solar, or wind power?
We do have incentives for installing alternative energy technology on your home. There are also tax incentives available. Find more information here. Avista also has many helpful ways for customers to be energy efficient. There are variety of programs and rebates for energy-efficient equipment that you can use in your home or business.
 
Solar panels on Avista building
 
Solar panels shine on the roof of a building on Avista’s Spokane headquarters. The panels are being used to power Avista’s plug-in electric car.

Can Avista handle a plug-in hybrid car if I buy one?
Avista is currently testing a couple of plug-in hybrids [LINK] to help us prepare for a future that will likely include many of these vehicles in our service area. We have also installed some solar voltaic panels to offset the energy these vehicles use to charge up. There are various considerations for the demand plug-ins will put on the grid and this could actually help lead to some form of time of day metering or other incentives to spread out the demand. Stay tuned.

Thanks for your questions, Fred.
 
 
Published: 7/1/2009  1:56 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 30 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet

First it was natural gas rates going down in Washington and Idaho, now its electricity too. Nothing wrong with that if you’re a customer. If regulators in Washington and Idaho approve our requests, residential and small farm customers should see a decrease in electric rates starting August 1.

The decrease, if approved, is a result of Avista passing through a benefit from Bonneville Power Administration's (BPA) Residential Exchange Program. The program is part of the Northwest Power Act, which provides a share of the benefits of the federal Columbia River power system to the six investor-owned utilities in the Pacific Northwest, including Avista. Avista passes the program’s benefits (or cost savings) on to customers.

This news release contains forward-looking statements regarding the company's current expectations. Forward-looking statements are all statements other than historical facts. Such statements speak only as of the date of the news release and are subject to a variety of risks and uncertainties, many of which are beyond the company's control, which could cause actual results to differ materially from the expectations. These risks and uncertainties include, in addition to those discussed herein, all of the factors discussed in the company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended Dec. 31, 2008, and the Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended March 31, 2009.
Published: 6/30/2009  3:07 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 30 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Last week we filed a natural gas rate increase request with the Public Utility Commission of Oregon (PUC). We cited recovery of costs for capital projects and reliability to meet customer needs, as well as increased operating expenses in the request.

It’s worth noting that this is only the third time since Avista began serving its Oregon customers in 1991 that the company has requested a rate increase to recover its costs for delivering natural gas.

The PUC has up to 10 months to review Avista's filing. If the request is approved, a residential customer using an average of 49 therms per month would see a $9.15 increase, or 12.5 percent, for a revised monthly bill of $82.46.

Of course rates went down 4.1 percent last November as well.

You’re likely to see a notice in local newspapers with the headline, “Why natural gas rates may be going up – and also going down.” Click on this link to read the notice now.

Get more details on this request from our news release.
 
This news release contains forward-looking statements regarding the company's current expectations. Forward-looking statements are all statements other than historical facts. Such statements speak only as of the date of the news release and are subject to a variety of risks and uncertainties, many of which are beyond the company's control, which could cause actual results to differ materially from the expectations. These risks and uncertainties include, in addition to those discussed herein, all of the factors discussed in the company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended Dec. 31, 2008, and the Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended March 31, 2009.

 
Published: 6/30/2009  2:05 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 23 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
Today the blog received an e-mail from Tracy, a customer who asked this: “Do you recommend shutting off the gas pilot on fireplaces during the summer? How much would this save on my gas bill?”
 
Let’s talk money first: will this save you money? Yes, because that appliance won’t be consuming gas while the pilot light is off. But it could cost you more this fall if you need to have a qualified contractor re-light it for you (more on that later).
 
A typical gas fireplace pilot light could use around 6.6 therms of natural gas in a month – that’s sitting idle, no usage for heat. So, if you multiply that number by your state’s natural gas rate you can calculate your costs (and potential cost savings). For example in Washington as of June 1, a therm is priced at $1.05260. So, 6.6 therms, multiplied by 1.05260, equals $6.95 per month. That amounts to around $0.23 per day over 30 days. See other state’s natural gas rates below.
 
To answer the first question – do we recommend this? It depends on your equipment and level of comfort in turning the fireplace pilot back on when you want to use it again.
 
If your fireplace has an automatic relight switch or button to relight it and you feel comfortable doing this, go for it. But some older fireplaces and many other appliances, like gas furnaces, water heaters and ranges should be relit only by a professional or someone comfortable and experienced in this area. You may need to contact a professional dealer to provide this service for you. While their costs vary, I would venture to guess it would wipe-out your $6.95 a month savings, even over the entire summer.
 
Do the math
Natural gas rates by therm, as of June 1, 2009: Multiply the number below by 6.6 therms to get your monthly cost to run an average natural gas pilot light on a fireplace.
 
WA: $1.05260, ID: $1.06112, OR: $1.37365
 
Tracy, thanks for asking this question – I’m sure you’re not the only customer wondering about this.
Published: 6/23/2009  1:16 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 19 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet

On Thursday Avista received a new 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for operating its hydroelectric dams on the Spokane River. For most of us living in this region, the dams have become part of the landscape, intimately tied to the river and how we view it. So, the commitment that Avista will continue to protect and enhance natural resources connected with the river means this view will continue. It also means clean, renewable hydropower from the Spokane River will remain a staple resource for Avista customers.
 
We’ve been working with hundreds of stakeholders to secure this license for seven years. Now that it’s been issued, we’re excited to get started with certainty about our operations. Some of the new items that will be implemented through out the life of the license include:
 
• Year-round aesthetic flows in the downtown Spokane area
• Increased minimum flows from Post Falls Dam and recreation water levels on Coeur d'Alene Lake
• Water quality improvements in the Spokane River and Lake Spokane (also known as Long Lake)
• Fish habitat studies and fishery enhancements
• Wetlands mitigation
• Improvements to recreation facilities, such as park improvements and campground upgrades
 
We received some solid press coverage about the license in newspapers today. Check out Becky Kramer’s article in the Spokesman-Review, which includes a detailed Q and A - Power play: Avista dams relicensed
 
You might also want to catch Brian Walker’s article in the Coeur d’Alene Press - Avista awarded 50-year dam license

FERC Commissioner Philip D. Moeller released a statement on FERC’s website yesterday commending all parties involved in the license process, but added a personal note that I think ties into many individuals’ feelings about the river. He said, “As a child I held a season pass to “Expo ’74,” the World’s Fair based in Spokane. The fairgrounds were located around the Spokane River with a focus on the needs of the world’s environment. Today’s order [issuing the license] balancing the various attributes of the Spokane River system honors the legacy and theme of Expo ’74.”  Read the full statement.
 
We heard from many, many customers and stakeholders throughout this process. Any additional thoughts or questions on the new license you’d like to share? Click "comments" below to sign in.
 
Published: 6/19/2009  10:05 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 17 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet

You may have heard that Avista settled its electric and natural gas rate requests in Idaho. What exactly does this mean?
 
The bottom line is this: On August 1, if approved, residential electric rates in Idaho could go up just under two percent, while natural gas rates won’t change. Read the news release for all the details of how these percentages are factored.
 
So why is the electric rate increase in the settlement agreement smaller than the company requested in January? And why didn’t natural gas rates increase? In January, we filed for a net electric rate increase of 7.8 percent. The natural gas request was 3 percent. We heard from a lot of you about this request – and we’re still listening.
 
Rates should be based on the best information available, following a full review by the state regulatory commission. So what this settlement means is that the system works. From the time we filed in January through the approximate seven-month approval process, circumstances changed. The big one was the cost of natural gas on the wholesale market.
 
Strange as it might sound, we use natural gas to make electricity too. In 2008 it was about 24 percent of our power supply mix. (Hydro-power was at the top at around 55 percent.) So, if it costs us less to buy the gas we use, then it costs less to make the electricity we provide as well. 
 
For customers in Washington and Idaho that use natural gas in their homes for things like space and water heating, we’ve already lower gas rates twice this year. As prices dropped, it made sense to have a smaller electric rate increase, based on the more recent natural gas prices.
 
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission still has to approve the all-party settlement, and we hope it will. In addition to the IPUC staff, other parties in the case include large industrial customers and low-income advocates. Input was given directly to the IPUC by other customers through written and electronic comments, as well as public hearings.
 
We’re a regulated utility, which means we can’t simply charge you whatever we want, at any time. Many stakeholders – you included – are watching us to make sure we provide you with fair prices, reliable service and are good stewards of the environment. No customer wants higher prices, but it’s good to know that the rate-making process is transparent and provides a fair outcome for all involved.
 
Share your thoughts: What do you think about the settlement agreement in Idaho? Click on 'comments' below and you'll be re-directed to where you can comment.
 
This news release contains forward-looking statements regarding the company’s current expectations. Forward-looking statements are all statements other than historical facts. Such statements speak only as of the date of the news release and are subject to a variety of risks and uncertainties, many of which are beyond the company’s control, which could cause actual results to differ materially from the expectations. These risks and uncertainties include, in addition to those discussed herein, all of the factors discussed in the company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended Dec. 31, 2008, and the Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the quarter ended March 31, 2009.

Published: 6/17/2009  1:43 PM | 2  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 15 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet

We just announced that the Post Falls boat ramp at Q’emiln Park will close today. Ironically, we just opened the boat ramp on June 12 - last Friday.
 
Avista operates the Post Falls Hydroelectric Development on the Spokane River and opens and closes spill gates on the river to control water levels. When the spill gates are open, city regulations require the boat ramp to be closed.
 
If you were in the area last weekend, you’d have noticed quite a bit of rain. Apparently it was enough to increase river flows into Lake Coeur d’Alene and necessitate spilling water at the dam to keep the lake and river levels from going too high. So, with the spill gates open, the boat ramp closes.
 
I heard from a few of the Avista employees involved in this open/close decision last week and I know they are definitely mindful of boaters wanting to use the ramp as soon as possible. That might happen in about a week. Watch the blog for more info.
 
 
  
Published: 6/15/2009  2:41 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 15 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
Over the weekend, Avista launched a new 24-hour automated phone system that is a bit different than you’ve probably become accustomed to. The big difference is that you can now talk to the phone system - with voice recognition - instead of just punching in the numbers before you get to a Contact Center representative.
 
Listen to Callie (the new voice)
 
A few weeks ago I attended a presentation about the new phone system by one of the project leads who walked me through nearly all the options available to customers. This has been a huge undertaking, with months and months of planning to make sure that a customer’s experience is a good one.
 
One of the main things to note about this new system – you can still talk to one of our local Contact Center representatives. They didn’t go away, so don’t worry about that. But, if you’d like to use one of the self-service options, it’s now available for you.   
 
This morning, when I got in the office I decided to try out the system myself. The first thing she (Callie) asked me was if I wanted to report a power outage or gas leak. Clearly, those calls need some immediate attention, but it only took a moment to get where I needed to go.
 
I wanted to check my Comfort Level Billing amount and find out when my last payment was made, but I didn’t have my account number. So, she asked me to say “I don’t have it.” She didn’t seem to have a problem with that and asked me to say my 10-digit telephone number and then verified my address after repeating exactly what I said.
 
She then walked me through the options and gave me the info I was looking for. Granted, this was a pretty simple request, but the system worked as it was supposed to and I suspect it will work well for you too.
 
You can also sign up for Comfort Level Billing and Automatic Payment Service with the new phone system. Eventually, you’ll even be able to open, close or transfer an account over the phone. Of course, you can do just about everything you need to your account on the web, and now the phone system mirrors much of that.
 
You’ll experience the system next time you call us. Click on “comments” below and share your experience.
 
Published: 6/15/2009  10:43 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 12 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet
This Saturday you can stop by Moscow Building Supply – we’ll be handing out free energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and low-flow shower heads, while supplies last.
 
Avista's Sun Car
Also on display will be the Avista Sun Car. If you haven’t seen the car, you’re missing out. The idea that you can run your car on electricity (almost entirely) is pretty cool idea. You might say, “Sure, says the guy at the electric utility . . .” And you’d be right. We have a little vested interest in the future of this technology, which is part of the reason we’re testing the cars.
 
If, in a few years or a decade, just a small percentage of our customers are using electric cars, it may have great implications to our electric grid and how utilities deliver electricity. We want to be ahead of the game and ready to deliver.
 
The sun car is Toyota Prius hybrid that has been converted into a plug-in electric car powered by solar panels located on top of our corporate offices in Spokane. The panels are part of a project we’re conducting to explore renewable energy options for customers and to provide information about incorporating renewable energy into everyday life.
 
So if you can, stop by Moscow Building Supply, 760 N. Main St., Moscow, Idaho on Saturday, June 13, from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. We’ll have representatives on hand to answer any question, as well.
Published: 6/12/2009  11:26 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 10 , 2009
Post by Dan Kolbet

I got an e-mail through the blog yesterday from a customer named Ed that I thought was worth sharing with the blogosphere. Seems that Ed’s Budget Billing (also known as Comfort Level Billing) amount went down, but his usage was up.
 
On its face, this doesn’t make any sense, right? Every quarter from the budget billing sign-up date, we review customer usage to make sure you’re being charged the right amount (up or down). This is how we can even out the amount you pay each month, even during high bill times like our cold winters. We look back on the previous 12-months usage and recalculate your bill if it needs adjusted.
 
But this case was a little different. Ed’s amount went down because of our recent natural gas decreases in Washington and Idaho. The decrease was so large (5% is the minimum) that it triggered an automatic reduction in the bill amount. Side note: Oregon natural gas rates went down in November 2008.
 
So, the lower bill was based on the rate decrease, not a usage decrease. During the next review cycle if usage is up for this customer – or any customer – the bill amount will probably still go up to pay for what was used.
 
Either way, it’s nice to see a little smaller bill each month. Have you seen a decrease in your bill? Click on the comments section below and drop us a note.
 
Privacy note: We will not share any personal customer information (like a last name or address) on the blog, but rather speak in general terms about account info. This question was about costs, but we did not share the billing amount. Check out our discussion guidelines and our commitment to your privacy.
 
Published: 6/10/2009  12:09 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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