Jul 31 , 2009
For 120 years, Avista (and Washington Water Power for a long time) has been talking with you. OK, none of us have been around that long, but you get the idea. The conversation might have happened at a community event, a ball game, public meeting or you might even know one of our employees personally. As a company we’ve also been speaking with you through our Contact Center, traditional mail, e-mail and our website.

The point is this whole “conversation” thing isn’t all that new. This blog is just a new extension.

We hope that this 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.

As of this post, we’ve been publishing the blog for about two months. The customer interactions have been fantastic. Most people have preferred to send an e-mail, rather than comment openly, but it’s been no less successful. 

Comments
If you want to comment on a post, you need to have a My Account associated with an Avista Utilities account at your home or business. It takes just a minute to set up, so you might want to do it today. We’re looking for some meaningful dialog with customers, so we’ve also set some Discussion Guidelines that are worth a look too. 

You can also send us an e-mail if you have a question about Avista or utilities in general. We’ll respond within two business days. We may paraphrase your message and share it on the blog to keep this conversation going.
 
Published: 7/31/2009  1:24 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 31 , 2009
If you’re a fan of the environment, blogs, fish and renewable energy (yes, I had to sneak that in there), you may have already been following The Clark Fork 320 Blog this past month or so. The blog is documenting an incredible 320-mile float down the Clark Fork River. They ran into some Avista folks around the Noxon Reservoir, so I thought it worth a call-out on our blog.

Clark Fork Coalition board member Daniel Kiely and friends have been blogging from the river since June. It started in Butte, Montana and ended at Lake Pend Oreille on July 21.

In Kiely’s words pre-float, “I’ll be using this float as an opportunity to promote all of the restoration work underway across the basin and to call attention to lingering threats to watershed health in the Clark Fork and its tributaries.”

He’s met a lot of interesting folks along the way and I’ve certainly enjoyed reading the blog.

Here’s what Kiely had to say when he met up with Avista Land Use Specialist Brian Burky in late July: “I portaged Noxon Reservoir today with the help of Brian Burky at AVISTA. He was very helpful and even gave me and Josh four gallons of gas. The reservoir is formed by one of three major dams on the lower Clark Fork. The dams do block fish migration in the lower Clark Fork, to say nothing of float trips. The Noxon and Cabinet Gorge dams are owned by Avista Corporation and their hydroelectricity represents a major part of the electricity for Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Pullman and other parts of north Idaho. Avista was involved in a major settlement agreement negotiated with citizen and environmental groups in 2001, which focused on mitigation for the effects of their dams on bull trout and other native fish. Avista now has fisheries biologists trying to help bull trout recovery by doing research and financing restoration projects totalling $2 million annually in the lower Clark Fork.”

We did a video with Brian Burky last year about ADA accessible recreation opportunities on the Clark Fork that Avista has help establish. Check it out here.

Kudos to the The Clark Fork 320 Blog and this awesome float-trip.
 
Published: 7/31/2009  11:09 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 31 , 2009
There’s something special about working for a hydro-based utility. Walking around the Water Power XVI conference in Spokane this week, talking to people and listening to presentations – I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this belief. Most of you already know that Avista Utilities used to be Washington Water Power. The named was derived from the company’s commitment to hydro power. The name might have changed, but our commitment hasn’t.

As more and more demand is added to our system, a different variation of energy is being used to generate the power. It’s not just hydro anymore; its biomass, wind, natural gas and coal. But hydro, at least in the United States, is one of those stand-by electric generation options that has been available for more than a century and will continue to be. It’s pretty unlikely that hydro generation is drying up anytime soon. The industry refers to it as, “base load,” meaning it’s there when you need it. The exciting thing this week is to see the people attending the conference who are working on further innovations to get the most out their facilities, while also protecting fish and wildlife, and providing recreation opportunities on waterways.

Hydro power is clean and renewable. When we’re talking about cap and trade legislation to limit carbon emissions, one of the obvious resources is hydro power. During the opening session of the conference yesterday, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Commissioner Philip D. Moeller told the assembled crowd, “No more Mr. Nice Guy.” That hydro needs to be viewed as a major part of climate change legislation and needs to take the lead. It’s been around for a long time and it doesn’t emit carbon and too often it’s taken for granted.

Commissioner Moeller is right, hydro power is key to clean electric generation. Avista customers know it and have been enjoying clean energy from it for 120 years. We have long-term licenses to operate our dams on the Spokane and Clark Fork rivers and will continue to innovate in our hydro operations and act as strong environmental stewards.

Any questions about hydro power? Fire away in the comments section.

Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Published: 7/31/2009  11:00 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 27 , 2009
Today I got a chance to tag along with an Avista meter reader. Not quite sure why learning what a meter reader does, in the 90 degree heat, was a great idea. I only hung around for about two hours, but Aaron, my guide for the morning will be out there all day, every day. It was hot, dusty and quite honestly, not a whole lot of fun – at least for me because I had no idea what I was doing.

Dressed in a brightly colored vest or other Avista logo apparel, meter readers like Aaron visit customer homes once a month to “read” the meter. That consists of checking the positioning on the four little dials on the gas or electric meters, and sometimes the digital display on some electric meters.

By reading the meter and coming up with a number, we can compare the numbers from last month and determine your usage. Pretty simple, but reading a meter, for novices like me – and I assume most of you - isn’t very simple. Some dials are read clockwise, others counter-clockwise. And the numbers don’t really mean much unless you can subtract them from last month’s numbers. For a little tutorial on reading a meter, click here.

For Avista’s meter readers, one quick glance at the meter is enough to determine what the dials say. That’s the easy part. “Reading” the meter takes seconds, but it’s travel time between meters that take the bulk of the day. Negotiating fences, prickly bushes, dogs (happy and not-so-happy ones), rough terrain and the weather is the tough part.

I always assumed that meter readers would travel from house to house like a mailman. Up to one house, then on to the next in a straight line, and so on. But since meters tend to be scattered all over the place, sometimes behind fences, walls or even under decks in backyards, meter readers take the most efficient path. That might mean reading your neighbor’s gas meter from your driveway over the fence with binoculars, or walking between houses to grab the read through the alley.

When the snow falls, those shortcuts become even more important, as plowing through four feet of snow to get a quick look at your meter is even more difficult. Tip: this is why you don’t always see footprints in front of your meter. They don’t have to be standing right in front of it to make the read. Of course, if I was to read your meter I’d need to be directly in front of it for a few minutes to figure it out. Luckily, we’ve got experts out there making sure reads are correct and if there’s a question, give us a call and we’ll check it again.

So, as a personal plea for all meter readers out there working for Avista or any utility – try to clear a path to your meters this summer. Trim back the hedge or remove other obstacles before the big snow hits, so when you need to clear a path to your meters this winter, it will be easier on you – and them!

Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 7/27/2009  2:25 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 27 , 2009
If you’re in downtown Spokane this week, you might notice attendees of the largest hydropower event in the country milling about the area. According to Hydro Review, the event organizer, there are expected to be 1,600 hydro experts from 40 countries in attendance at the nearly week-long conference.

I’m not exactly sure how you’d recognize them, so I suggest a little on-the-spot pop quiz. If they answer these three questions correctly, they just might be attendees of Waterpower XVI, the largest hydropower conference in the country.

Question 1
Hydro power is made from: a. water, b. wind, c. coal. If they answer anything other than ‘a. water,’ they are in big trouble.

Question 2
Avista’s electric resource mix includes how much hydro power? a. 15%, b. 55% or c. 100%. This one’s a little harder, but the correct answer is b. 55%, based on our 2008 figures.

Question 3
Utilities with hydro projects (dams and such) should be concerned with: a. environmental impacts, b. being classified as renewable energy, c. area recreation, d. new technology, or e. all of the above. OK, loaded question, of course, it’s all of the above and probably much more.

The conference brings together utilities, suppliers, consultants and regulators in the industry to share new ideas, technology, and approaches in hydropower. The conference focuses on hydro as the world's leading source of renewable energy. Avista is involved in the conference as the host-city sponsor, given our long history of hydropower innovation and leadership on many issues. It also doesn’t hurt that attendees can easily walk through Riverfront Park to see Avista’s hydro projects that directly power much of the surrounding area.

“It’s a great thing for Spokane to host a conference of this size that focuses on hydropower,” Steve Fry, Avista Hydro Projects Manager and a member of the Waterpower XVI Advisory committee, said. “It’s a real credit to Avista and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to get Waterpower here.”

I’m planning to live-tweet during some sessions. You can follow along at www.twitter.com/Dan_at_Avista.

For a complete program or more information about the conference, visit
www.waterpowerconference.com.

Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 7/27/2009  2:23 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 24 , 2009

Click here to sign up for Comfort Level Billing


Last March I was on Spokane’s Centennial Trail running with a group of people I didn’t really know that well. It was cold; I was slow and trailing with some folks in the back. When you’re trying to avoid thinking about your burning quads and feet, conversation with others tends to work wonders. So I was chatting with a guy that lives west of Spokane. I told him that I worked at Avista Utilities and what I do here. He shared the same type of info with me and said he was an Avista customer.

And then he said, "What can I do about my high bills?"

Remember, at this time, there was still snow on the ground that hadn't melted from our record amounts during the cold winter. It’s pretty simple math, when it’s colder outside, your heating system has to run more to keep your house at the temperature you want. Bills are generally higher in the winter. No question about it. 

"Have you signed up for the Comfort Level Billing program?" I asked.

"No. What's that?"

I described the program to him. Basically, it helps smooth out your payments to a consistent amount throughout the year, so when winter heating season rolls around, you already know what your Avista bill will cost you. It also helps to budget the same amount each month, like you would for other long-term items like mortgage or insurance payments. We evaluate your usage and adjust it accordingly if things change.

He said the plan sounded familiar and he did something similar with his utility when he lived back east years before. He just hadn’t done it yet with Avista, but said he’d look into it.

So, the point of this post is to say that being proactive today, when it’s hot, the sun is shining and your bills are a bit lower, can really help this winter when the temperatures drop and snow starts to pile up.

We're running a promotion through August 31, 2009 to encourage customers to sign-up for Comfort Level Billing. You might have received an e-mail about it. You could win $100 if you sign up. If you’re already enrolled, you’ve been automatically entered to win.

Get all the details on many of our programs and sign up for Comfort Level Billing at www.avistautilities.com/assistance or call 1-800-227-9187. I know winter seems like a long time from now, but it will be here before you know it.
 
Are you on Comfort Level Billing? Tell us about it.
 
Post by Dan Kolbet

 
Published: 7/24/2009  11:38 AM | 1  Comment | 0  Links to this post

Jul 23 , 2009
There’s no doubt about it – it’s hot out there. Doesn’t matter if you’re in Spokane, Colville or Lewiston – all across Avista’s service territory, it’s hot. But more importantly it is dry. Every summer we hear about wildfires and the brave efforts of fire crews to save homes and lives by keeping fires at bay. While fires can be caused by any number of things, there is one simple way that we’re trying to help eliminate the threat of fires – and that is by making temporary changes to our operations concerning power lines.
 
There is a chance when a power line goes down, for any number of reasons, that it could potentially spark a fire. Our system is set up to maximize reliability, so there are mechanisms on most power lines that sense if the line has issues, such as when a tree branch falls on the line. Typically the line tries to automatically reenergize – so power can quickly be restored to customers. You might experience this as a blink or two of your lights.
 
During dry conditions like this summer, we change how certain lines operate to attempt to limit fire danger when reenergizing the power line. So, as of today, certain lines, typically those located in rural and/or forested areas, will no longer be reenergized automatically. Instead, line personnel may have to physically patrol the outage area before the line is placed back into service.
 
So, what does this mean for you? It could mean that if your home or business has a power outage, it may be a bit longer than usual to get your power back on. Physically patrolling the lines takes time – but it’s certainly worth it to be cautious during such dry conditions.
 
We appreciate your patience during this time. We will return the distribution system to normal as soon as weather permits.
 
Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 7/23/2009  10:52 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 22 , 2009
There are quite a few clean energy initiatives happening in the state of Washington. Keeping track and unifying them is another story. Recently Washington Governor Chris Gregoire formed the Clean Energy Leadership Council to help guide a collaborative effort between the governor’s office and a public-private clean energy alliance.
 
Gregoire has tapped Avista Vice President for Sustainable Energy Resources, Roger Woodworth to join the 15-member council.
 
So what’s the significance to Avista customers? Having a voice at the table ensures that your concerns and opinions regarding clean energy are represented. While Avista doesn’t serve every citizen in Washington - or even Eastern Washington - we do serve the majority in this area, so your opinions matter.
 
 
What are your concerns about clean energy? Comment below.
 
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Published: 7/22/2009  3:29 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 20 , 2009
If you’re out and about near the Nine Mile Dam today, you might notice some crews installing a new safety cable in the water.

The cable was broken by floating debris during the high runoff period in April, causing authorities to close the section of river between Plese Flats and the dam. Continuing high water levels have prevented crews from safely replacing the cable until now.
 
As this is a work in progress, please keep your distance. We expect that once the cable is in place the river, Spokane County will re-open it for recreation.

If I get some pictures of the replacement work, I’ll post them this week.

Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 7/20/2009  10:56 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jul 20 , 2009
It always makes me feel good when I’m asked about something to say, “Well, I’ve got a guy for that.” It could be about anything - handyman, florist, tax-preparer, web designer – whatever. But when it comes to energy efficiency, I’ve got a guy for that too, and for you.

Since January Avista's Energy Solutions Engineer, Tom Lienhard has written monthly articles about energy efficiency, called Tom's Tips, for many print publications throughout Avista’s service territory in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. The papers have used them in different ways, but we’ve captured each article on our website for our customers to use. Saving energy (something you can’t physically see) is no doubt a complicated topic. All of us want to save energy and money, but taking the leap is a little easier when you can trust the source to guide you the right way. The articles contain good advice anyone can use. No sales pitch, no agenda.

Drawing on Tom's technical background as a mechanical engineer, combined with his experience as a former facilities manager with extensive professional credentials, the articles focus on physical improvements homeowners can make to save energy as well as what to consider when making upgrades.

The most recent article is about windows. Read “More panes, more gains - making your windows work for you.”

You can drop Tom a line at askavista@avistautilities.com or comment on any blog post and ask a question for everyone to read and learn from.

Post by Dan Kolbet
Published: 7/20/2009  10:21 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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