Oct 30 , 2009
Noxon video
 
Post by Dan Kolbet

Oftentimes a hydro dam looks like a block of earth and cement, just holding back water. Not much happening, right? Well, peel back the layers and you’ll find an incredibly high-tech operation that is constantly in motion. 

As Avista’s largest single generation facility, the Noxon Rapids Dam in Montana is an impressive structure that has been in operation more than 50 years. But just like your house, after 50 years, it’s due for some upgrades.

Getting ready to remove turbine.
One of the upgrades currently underway is the replacement of the turbine runner for Unit 3 in the dam. The dam’s five units are capable of producing as much as 548 megawatts of clean, renewable electricity. Unit 3 generates about 100 megawatts of electricity by itself.

On Wednesday, Oct. 28 I was at the dam and produced a video about the removal of the turbine runner – the massive section of the unit that is spun by water. Avista Electric Foreman Howard Johnson actually let me go inside the penstock (well-supervised) to see the final preparations for the removal of the turbine.

The penstock is normally filled with rushing water that slams into the turbine. It was a little creepy climbing through the tiny porthole to get in – I’m not shy about saying that. But today the penstock was filled with workers getting the turbine ready for removal and prepped for its replacement. The new turbine, which should be in around March will produce more electricity than its predecessor – saving customers money.

Upgrading our electric system isn’t just about power lines or the things you see every day, it’s also where the power comes from, like hydro dams. Most people don’t get to see work like this, so I produced this video to show the final prep work and removal of the Unit 3’s turbine.
 
The video shows some of the damage and maintenance on the turbine over the last 50 years and why a new one is prudent. Check out the video.

So the next time I write something about upgrading our system, think about this massive 250,000-pound turbine being lifted across the deck of the dam all in the name of producing hydro electricity better and cheaper for customers.
 
Published: 10/30/2009  1:45 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 30 , 2009
You might have seen this in the local news over the last few days – good news travels fast – Washington and Idaho regulators have approved sizable decreases in your natural gas rates. This latest decrease will be 25 percent in Washington, 23 percent in Idaho.

Bottom line for Washington, it’s the third such decrease in 2009 alone, totaling about 35 percent. In Idaho, the overall total reduction is 30 percent. We requested these decreases last January, this summer and again this fall and have to wait for each state commission to approve any change.

These new rates were approved this week and will be effective Sunday, Nov. 1, just in time for the winter heating season.

Before you crank up the heat in celebration, remember that to really see the cost benefits of lower rates, you will need to at least maintain your current usage (or use less). You may want to turn up the heat a bit because it’s cheaper to do it, but just remember that your savings could be wiped out if you chose to use more than the previous year. Be comfortable, but knowledgeable about your usage.

If you want to take a closer look at your usage from last year, log on to your My Account and look at the Bill Analyzer, which can compare one month or one year of usage, giving you a breakdown of contributing factors of the changes on your bill. If you don't have a My Account, click here.

One final note – these rate decreases are because of the declining cost of natural gas on the wholesale market. Your total natural gas bill is divided into two costs: natural gas (about two-thirds) and the cost to deliver the gas (about one-third). Wholesale natural gas prices fluctuate based on market conditions. That means prices may increase over the next year. When the cost of gas goes back up, it will be reflected in the rates you pay. We’ll keep you informed of any changes on this blog.

Links
Read the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission release, “State approves third reduction this year in natural gas rates for Avista customers.” You might also want to check out reporter Tom Sowa’s Spokesman-Review story, “Some of the chill coming out of Avista bills.”
 
Published: 10/30/2009  9:05 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 27 , 2009
Smart Grid graphic
This morning, when I got into the office it was still just getting light outside. There was a buzz about the place and I didn’t know why. We’re just like any office, some days are more exciting than others – but today seemed special. A lot of conversations in the halls and happy faces. So, when I opened up my e-mail and found out that Avista had been selected to receive a federal matching grant worth about $20 million for smart grid work, I knew why the tone in the office was so jubilant.

This is very cool news and will give us the opportunity to upgrade a fair amount of our electric line feeder system (improving reliability for your service), lessen the impact on rates (by getting matching funds), create green jobs for our region (could be around 45 jobs), save energy (through efficiency improvements) and serve as an example for other utilities (because we’ve been doing work like this for more than 100 years).

Specifically, the project will include installation of modern equipment and software to enable smart grid capabilities and increase reliability and efficiency.

We originally applied for funds for this project last summer. Read the August 4 blog post, “Smart grid details: Spokane’s smart circuits.” Given that this is only October, the stimulus funds process is moving at a rapid pace and we expect to start the feeder upgrade work by the end of this year. The whole project is expected to take 36 months to complete.

Learn more about the stimulus funding award in our news release.
Published: 10/27/2009  2:05 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 27 , 2009
Avista has won the 2009 Catalyst Award for Clean/Green Company of the Year. Greater Spokane Incorporated and TechNet announced the award Friday, Oct. 23 during the LaunchPad INW’s Oktoberfest event.

Award photo

2009 Catalyst Award for Clean/Green Company of
the Year. A single CFL bulb and natural overhead
light was used to light this photo.

The Catalyst Awards “recognize contributions by individuals, organizations and businesses that demonstrate the utilization of technology and innovation to bring economic development to the region.” This year’s awards also included categories for individuals and businesses using clean or green technologies to make a difference.

Another notable award went to the Institute of Systems Medicine for Organization of the Year, a non-profit organization advancing biomedical infrastructure and research.

Other category winners were:

• Company of the year: Absolute Aviation
• Clean-green organization: City of Spokane
• Mentor of the year: Steve Salvatori, founder of the Spokane Entrepreneurial Center
• Innovators of the year: Dr. Bassem Bejjani and Lisa Shaffer, founders of Signature Genomic Laboratories

Avista strives to be a regional innovator in sustainable energy solutions, leading the way with new ideas and technologies. Renewable energy has been at the core of our operations since we completed our Monroe Street hydroelectric facility on the Spokane River in 1889. As one of the lowest emitters of carbon among the nation’s top energy producers, we remain one of the greenest utilities in the country.

Over time, Avista has taken the lead among energy suppliers in pioneering renewable and sustainable generation and building robust energy efficiency programs to create energy value for our customers. Through the development of companies like Itron (smart meters), ReliOn (fuel cells) and Advantage IQ (bill management for sustainability), we’ve created more than 600 additional “green” jobs benefitting our local economy.

Advantage IQ won a previous Catalyst award in 2006, and Avista won in 1999.
 
Published: 10/27/2009  8:45 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 22 , 2009
By now you probably know that if your state commission approves a natural gas rate decrease request, you are likely to see a 17 to 20 percent decrease in your natural gas rates on Nov. 1.

But before you start planning for that extra cash in your pocket this winter, you need to consider your normal energy usage.

I think it’s human nature to assume that because the price is cheaper, it’s OK to use a little more. You might want to turn that thermostat up a few degrees, “because I’m saving money anyway, since the rate is lower.” As we say in our energy efficiency messages “every little bit” really does add up. This phrase works for both savings and costs.

One of my friends here at Avista, Christine McCabe, who does a lot of senior energy workshops says, as a general guideline, you should keep your home at a comfortable temperature for you. I think that’s good advice and it’s flexible for each of us. If you’re watching TV and not moving around the house, you might like it a little warmer. Yet, if you’re doing laundry, cooking dinner and cleaning the house – you’re probably keeping yourself plenty warm already and don’t need to turn up the thermostat.

Here’s my concern this winter: We’ve been sharing news about lower natural gas rates all year long and it’s true that your rates will be lower. Yet, this doesn’t mean you will automatically save money. It comes down to you and your decisions on how you use energy.

So be comfortable this winter, but don’t overdo it by assuming that the lower rates will help you avoid those traditionally higher winter bills. You are in control of your bill.

Bill analyzer graphic
One example of info provided by the
Bill Analyzer. It leads you to more
detailed info specific to your use.
Click to enlarge.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into your bill, you might want to check out our Bill Analyzer on this website. It’s one of the tools that can help you understand how you use energy at your home and compare your recent usage and bills to past months and years.

The Bill Analyzer is easy to use and a simple report shows your energy consumption and how your bill was impacted by items such as: weather, number of days in each month’s billing cycle, average cost of natural gas and/or electricity, and daily energy usage.

To get started, login to your My Account. Don’t have a My Account? Click here to sign-up.

Published: 10/22/2009  1:20 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 21 , 2009
Believe it or not, people using social media actually get together occasionally (yep, in person). Last night was one of those nights for me. I attended the Launchpad INW event, Social Networking Forum in the U!, held in Spokane’s University District at WSU Spokane. I spoke on a discussion panel with Marla Nunberg, Downtown Spokane Partnership; Barb Chamberlain, WSU Spokane; Chris Marr, Washington State Senator and Nick Lawhead, Desautel Hege Communications.

It was great to be able to share information about this blog, our activities on Twitter and discussion forums throughout our service territory. Over the last six months to a year I’ve had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of Avista customers about our company and what we do, but also made connections and had conversations about topics that are non-utility related. A conversation isn’t a one-way street and I’ve learned more about the people and communities we serve using social media then I ever had previously.

The audience was mainly local business professionals who are either using or plan to use social media to talk with their customers or various audiences. My fellow panelists had a wealth of knowledge and best practices about how social media tools are working for them.

I’d love to do a recap of the entire event, but there was so much great info discussed that I’d be writing all day. Here’s one way to get an inside look at the event. Go to search.twitter.com and type in “#SpoSM”. This is called a hashtag on twitter. Every person who used Twitter during last night’s event should have included the #SpoSM hashtag on their tweets (messages). You can follow along from the event’s promotion days earlier to recaps that are popping up online this morning from many different people and businesses. I’ll be sending out a link to this blog post on my Dan_at_Avista Twitter account later this morning. You can click on the hashtag in my tweet as well to find the stream of info.
 

Event photo

Photo of last night’s panel, from left: Marla Nunberg, Barb Chamberlain, Dan Kolbet, Chris Marr and Nick Lawhead. Photo courtesy of Lisa Breitenfeldt, owner of local business Cache Advance.


 
Published: 10/21/2009  10:05 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 20 , 2009
Click for rebates
Any business owner knows that the cost of energy is a significant part of a monthly budget. Thankfully we just announced some new energy efficiency rebates for commercial customers that might just help trim that budget line item.

Oregon commercial customers can now receive rebates from $200 to $3,000 installing ENERGY STAR commercial kitchen equipment and dishwashers or for installing high efficiency natural gas furnaces. New incentives are also available for commercial insulation measures and refrigeration night curtains. In addition, Avista offers rebates and incentives for site-specific energy efficiency improvements made to commercial operations such as businesses, schools, and public facilities.

EnergyStar
What’s cool about these new rebates is that Oregon customers already understand the value of energy efficiency. Just last year residential, commercial and industrial Avista customers in the state received more than 3,300 rebates and incentives totaling $850,000. Through the programs, customers reduced their energy use by over 287,000 therms of natural gas – that’s about the amount of natural gas used by almost 475 residential customers in one year. That’s good stuff.

Commercial and residential customers can find more information about energy efficiency rebates at www.everylittlebit.com.
Published: 10/20/2009  11:00 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 19 , 2009
This notice, re-published below, was just sent to local media concerning the accidental release of a lightweight lubricating oil at Upper Falls last night.

Spokane, Wash.  Oct. 19, 2009: Avista is working with the Washington Department of Ecology to assess and manage the accidental release of a lightweight lubricating oil at its Upper Falls Hydroelectric Development on the Spokane River.

The spill was discovered at about 7:30 this morning after operators at the powerhouse found an auxiliary bearing pump seal had failed during the night. Avista immediately implemented emergency spill procedures and began working with the appropriate agencies to begin clean-up measures as quickly as possible.

Initial estimates are that 50-100 gallons of the oil leaked inside the powerhouse building before it was discovered. Nearly all of the oil appears to have been contained within the powerhouse; however there is a small visible oil sheen on the river next to the powerhouse. Avista and Ecology have deployed a boom and that area is contained. They are now in the process of assessing whether any oil has traveled downstream.

The oil does not contain PCBs. Avista is not aware of any immediate threat to wildlife or aquatic life, and believes the spill does not pose a long-term threat to the health of the river. Avista will continue working with Ecology to mitigate any environmental impacts and will follow up to ensure that there are no lasting impacts to the environment.

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 June 30, 2009.
Published: 10/19/2009  1:05 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 16 , 2009
There’s an interesting video up on YouTube called, “Facts about Natural Gas. The Natural Choice.” The video was created by Spectra Energy – a natural gas infrastructure (pipeline) company based in Houston.

Watch Spectra natural gas video
It’s worth a look if you’re curious about the fuel that feeds many parts of your home or business. The video discusses natural gas as clean, abundant, reliable, efficient, safe, domestic and versatile. I couldn’t agree more – which probably isn’t surprising given that Avista is a natural gas utility as well.

Of course Spectra comes at the fuel from a different angle. They use massive transmission lines to distribute large quantities of natural gas over long distances, where as Avista serves local customers at their homes and businesses. We’re in your community and we’re the face of natural gas service for many. Regardless, it’s just another side of the business and they know the value of the fuel as well.

We’ve been talking about natural gas a lot over the past few months in relation to rate reductions – always a good thing for customers. Reducing your usage through energy efficiency is obviously a key factor in saving on your energy bill, but when we can pass along savings in rates due to reductions in the wholesale cost of gas, that’s a benefit too. If you’d like to learn more, check out our conversation page info about natural gas.

In the meantime, check out the natural gas video and share any thoughts in the comment section.
 
Published: 10/16/2009  12:00 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 16 , 2009
Last week we published some cold weather tips in the blog post, “Cold weather ahead - some tips to get ready.”

Lewiston radio station 950 KOZE-AM, picked up on the news and one of our representatives, Debbie Simock, got a chance to discuss the tips on the air. Thought you might want to check out the audio. Thanks KOZE, for keeping everyone informed.
 
Published: 10/16/2009  9:40 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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