Jun 30 , 2010
 
Spokane Shock
The Shock is electric for sure, but this Shock is Spokane’s number one ranked national Arena Football League team.
 
And on July 2, the team’s home game against the number two-ranked Arizona Rattlers will do more than generate a lot of touchdown frenzy. Avista’s Project Share emergency energy assistance fund will receive $3 from every ticket sold when fans use the code word “Share” when they purchase their discounted $12 tickets through TicketsWest, over the phone (800-325-SEAT (7328)), or in person at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena Box Office, 720 West Mallon.

It’s summer, why are we talking about energy assistance? Because the need for help in our community doesn’t go away just because the weather gets warmer.
 
Project Share is through donations from our customers, our community and our company. It provides one-time emergency energy assistance to families in our region regardless of the fuel they use for heating. This past heating season, Project Share provided more than $671,000 in energy assistance to 2,972 households in Spokane County. We work with our community Partner, SNAP, to make the grants. More information about Project Share is available on our website.

So, this holiday weekend think winning football team and a big score for Project Share, helping those in need in our community
Published: 6/30/2010  11:41 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 21 , 2010
Heavy rains require action, lowering of river
 
Post Falls Dam
Post Falls Dam from above.
Post by Hugh Imhof
 
Avista will need to open additional gates at the Post Falls Dam today to allow the increased flow in the Spokane River to pass by the dam. This action is due to a large amount of rain in the North Idaho mountains over the last 24 hours which is causing Coeur d’Alene Lake to rise. 

Avista is waiting to open the biggest gate until this afternoon to allow Spokane River users to move their boats and equipment to a safe location in the river. The elevation of the river near the Spokane Street Bridge this morning is about 2,124.8 ft., which is about 3 feet below summer level.   Once the bigger spill gate is opened the river level will drop as much as 7 feet below summer level. 

Coeur d’Alene Lake is currently slightly above its normal summer level of 2,128 ft. above sea level which Avista is required to maintain until after Labor Day.

As more water flows in the Spokane River between the lake and the dam, Avista must open more spill gates to allow the water to pass so that the lake remains at or near 2,128. The more spill gates that are open, the lower the elevation of the water above the dam, near the Spokane Street Bridge.   

Boaters and other river users are reminded that weather conditions can cause rapid changes in river levels. Please exercise caution on the water.
Published: 6/21/2010  9:31 AM | 2  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 17 , 2010
 
This summer and fall, Avista will replace the wooden flashboards at Nine Mile Hydroelectric Development with operable spillgates. The upgraded system will allow Avista to pre-program desired heights and give operators the ability to raise and lower the height of the spillway at any time, incrementally if needed, so that we can maintain the reservoir pool at a more constant level throughout the entire year.

Click to enlarge graphic
Click above to enlarge graphic.
Click to enlarge graphic
Click above to enlarge graphic.
What will the new spillway consist of?
The new spillway will consist of metal gates supported by air-filled rubber bladders. Compressors will inflate the bladders to approximately 25 psi to raise the gates. When stream flows are high enough, the bladders will deflate to lower the gates so water can flow over the top. The new, automated technology will be much more flexible and precise when managing the reservoir elevation.

What is the construction plan and timeline?
While the timeline is subject to change, the construction period is anticipated to be from July through October 2010. The new spillgates have been ordered and we expect delivery in July.

Once the new spillgates are delivered, we will remove some concrete from the top of the existing dam and replace it with new concrete to provide a good foundation to erect the new gates. A trough will be excavated in the dam crest for the compressed air lines that will be used to inflate the bladders.

The reservoir level must be lowered during construction to erect the new spillgates. During this period, the pool level will be 2 to 4 feet below the spillway crest, which may bring the level lower than what it has been in the past when the flashboards were erected each year in mid-summer. Construction should be complete and the reservoir level back to full pool by November of 2010.

How will the new spillway change Nine Mile operations?
No change in the full pool level is planned after the new spillway is installed. To the extent possible, we will maintain the reservoir level at the normal full pool elevation year around.

In the past the reservoir had to be lowered each summer to accommodate installation of the flashboards. When the flashboards were pulled in early winter or spring of each year, the material was lost and had to be replaced. Additionally, erecting the wooden flashboards each year is a labor intensive operation. The new spillway will result in less regular maintenance for Avista and enable the generation of additional power.
 
For project information, contact Steve Schultz, Project Manager, Senior Engineer.
Published: 6/17/2010  10:03 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 16 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet

Back in March Avista filed for electric and natural gas rate increases in Idaho (and Washington). The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has up to seven months from the initial filing to make a ruling on our request.

One of the important steps in this transparent process is for the commission to hear from you directly. Today the commission announced public workshops where commission staff will provide customers an overview of our rate request application and answer questions. Avista representatives will also be on hand for the workshop.

The workshops are Monday night, June 28, at the Brammer Building, 1225 Idaho St., in Lewiston and Tuesday, June 29, in the student union building on the North Idaho College campus, 1000 W. Garden Ave., in Coeur d’Alene. Both workshops begin at 7 p.m.
 
Tell me more about Avista’s Idaho general rate request filed in March.

What about Washington?
Public hearings/workshops have not yet been announced by the WUTC, but we’ll keep you posted when the information is available.
 
Tell me more about Avista’s Washington general rate request filed in March.
 
 
Published: 6/16/2010  4:31 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 15 , 2010
The reservoir behind the Nine Mile Dam.
The reservoir behind Avista's Nine Mile Dam.

Spillway, other projects to begin summer 2010

Nine Mile Dam flashboard removal.
In March we removed 'flashboards' from
the Nine Mile Dam. See how it was done.
Avista will hold an information meeting at Lakeside High School tonight, June 15 at 6:30 p.m., to update interested residents, property owners and customers on projects that will take place beginning this summer at the Nine Mile Dam and reservoir.

The major project at Nine Mile Dam is installation of a new rubber spillway that will eliminate the need for the wooden flashboards. Construction on the new spillway will begin this summer, and will require an extended drawdown of the reservoir while work is in progress.

The new spillway will consist of a rubber bladder, which will raise and lower a metal plate when inflated and deflated respectively. The spillway will be much more flexible and precise when managing the reservoir elevation.
 
UPDATE: Read our June 17 post, "Nine Mile Dam Spillway Improvement Project starts this summer" for more details on the project.

Avista’s environmental and hydro operations staff will discuss the spillway project and future generation upgrades to the powerhouse. They will also discuss the environmental and recreation projects that are planned for the Nine Mile area.

The projects are part of Avista’s 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to operate its five Spokane River hydroelectric facilities (Post Falls, Upper Falls, Monroe Street, Nine Mile, and Long Lake).

For more information about the meeting, call Speed Fitzhugh at (509) 495-4998.
 
Published: 6/15/2010  11:30 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 11 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet

Over the past few days, customers have been receiving an e-mail from Avista President Dennis Vermillion titled: Bill Assistance from Avista. Not everyone has provided us their e-mail address, so I thought I’d provide the text again here.

Dear Avista customer,

Click to watch video

Click above to watch video.
The weather is warming and generally, energy bills are lower than they were last year, but for some of our customers these challenging economic times still make it difficult to pay for many basic needs.  Energy assistance funds are still available and Avista has several bill assistance options that could help with paying energy bills.

If someone you know is having difficulty paying their energy bill, please have them call 1-800-227-9187 to reach our customer service center, or visit us online at
www.avistautilities.com for more information. We’ll do our best to work out special payment arrangements or help find other forms of assistance. It is our goal to do everything we can to help our customers who may be experiencing difficult times. 

In an effort to keep you informed about these bill assistance options we have created a video message. Please take a moment to learn about the various billing and assistance options and energy assistance grants such as Project Share, a program supported by our customers, community and Avista that provides one-time emergency energy assistance grants to those in need.

Thank you,
Dennis Vermillion
President, Avista Utilities
Published: 6/11/2010  10:18 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 10 , 2010
One birthday candle for our Blog's first year!
One birthday candle for the Avista Blog's first year!
 
Post by Dan Kolbet

Just about a year ago, Avista launched this blog. To be quite honest, I wasn’t certain we’d survive for more than six months or so. It wasn’t that I questioned our commitment, only that we’d never done it before – in fact very few utilities actually had a blog (and most still don’t). The idea of a blog was a foreign concept for the company, but also for customers. We’d never tried to have conversations with you in such a public way before – and we didn’t know how you’d all react.

It’s pretty clear on our one-year anniversary (or birthday if you will), that we’ve been successful. My criteria for this judgment is both anecdotal and factual. First off, this blog gets a few thousand hits each month, so I know it’s being read. Secondly, through e-mails, Twitter messages and discussion forum links, customers and other stakeholders are talking with us about the topics we’re writing about.

I often get asked about how many comments we receive on the blog. Not that many, but that’s not discouraging to me. While comments aren’t jamming my inbox – e-mails to conversation@avistautilities.com certainly are. Since June of last year, we’ve noted more than 900 individual e-mail conversations alone. We’ve made a commitment to personally respond to every customer who e-mails us. That surprises some people, who assume replies to our e-mail blasts go into a black hole. I like these interactions because people are plainspoken and honest – honest about their surprise that a large company such as ours would take the time to respond to their comments. We’ll continue to respond to your e-mails as long as you keep sending them.

Watch a video about Avista and social media
Watch a video about Avista and social media.
Avista's social media work has recieved regional and national attention.
Avista's social media work - especially on
discussion forums, has recieved regional and
national attention.
Since the blog is the centerpiece of our social media work, there are some ancillary pieces that keep us going. Avista has two Twitter accounts that keep track of the 140-character world out there. The @AvistaCares account is run by my co-worker and friend Jessie Wuerst, who focuses on those in need and talking about the communities we serve. My account @Dan_at_Avista helps promote the blog and interactions with customers. It’s also about my personal life and working at Avista. Never did I think 18 months ago, that Twitter would become a valuable tool for communications. It’s an early-warning system for outages and topics just bubbling to the surface. It’s also nice because it keeps each of us succinct in our tweets – poor grammar and abbreviations included. 

Another area that has drawn regional and even national attention is our participation in discussion forums, such as the comments section on local news outlets or blogs. Jumping into those discussions has been a challenge for me, given their immediacy for 24-hour-a-day responses, passionate participants and the fact that I’m often the ‘new kid’ in well-established online communities. But simply talking about the issues impacting Avista customers and providing answers when asked hasn’t been a challenge at all. It’s just a new place to talk about our company and customers, and provide direction when someone needs more information.
 
In our first post on June 1, 2009, I wrote this, “We hope that the 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.”

Those statements are still true a year later. As I look at what’s ahead for the next year, I’m excited to continue this conversation and further integrate guest bloggers, opinions, podcasts, videos – and you. Our Conversation pages are getting a facelift very soon and I hope you’ll like the changes and join in on the discussions.

I’m just an Avista employee, like everyone else here, but I have the privilege of representing Avista online and talking to you all through each post, tweet, e-mail or comment. I know these same types of conversations are happening in person everyday with my co-workers throughout our service territory and that makes me proud. So, on behalf of every Avista employee, thank you for visiting our site, reading the blog and having conversations with us over the past year – we’re glad you did. 
Published: 6/10/2010  12:32 PM | 1  Comment | 0  Links to this post

Jun 09 , 2010
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Much like a thoughtless husband who just can’t be bothered to remember anniversary dates – I screwed up.
 
I forgot the Avista Blog’s birthday.
 
So as we are 8 days after the “official” One Year Anniversary, this is my confession of forgetfulness. I ask the Blogosphere for forgiveness. (OK, maybe that was a little too much).
 
I promise to write a real, sincere 1-year recap post tomorrow. Hope I don’t forget . . . I can't believe nobody got us a card!
 
Published: 6/9/2010  4:09 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 09 , 2010
Broken power pole
This power pole was ripped from the ground during a powerful storm in the
Lewiston/Clarkston Valley in early May. One damaged area was so
remote that our crews had to build a road to access it.
View photos on Flickr of the windstorm damage as well as the crews’ efforts in restoration.
View photos on Flickr of the windstorm damage as well as the crews’ efforts
in restoration. 
Post by Sarah Hilbert

When the power goes out – we go all-out for you. In early May, a strong windstorm in the Lewiston/Clarkston area caused many outages, taking out power to 18,000 customers at its peak. Poles were snapped in half and downed power lines were strewn about in hard-to-access areas throughout the Clarkston Valley.

One concentrated outage had taken out 7,526 customers. Most of our customers were restored after we rerouted power over serviceable power lines; however, a few customers remained out for hours until the final repairs were made. This post should give you an idea of what goes on during a large power outage.

This day was challenging because it involved a large number of damaged transmission structures/lines, which serve thousands of customers, plus distribution lines – which serve neighborhoods. Many of the lines were in very remote locations, which are difficult to access quickly.

All hands on deck
We were able to restore power to most of our customers in short order thanks to an all-hands-on-deck approach. We assessed the damage quickly and assisted the local first responders, while beginning the restoration work out of our Pullman and Clarkston offices.

Initially, crews could not even reach the most damaged feeder (a large power line serving many customers) because it was so remote. But within a few hours, we worked with customers to get approvals to access their property and contractors to use equipment to build a construction road, greatly decreasing the repair time. 

In order to get the materials we needed to get the lights back on, we had to pull items from several warehouses throughout our service territory – and fast. Even gas department employees (who don’t typically work on the electric service side) got in the mix by pre-assembling steel poles and transporting materials.

Hearing from you
Our Contact Center call volume spikes when large outages occur. More than 18,400 calls came in on during this storm day. Fortunately, 62 percent of the calls were handled through our automated phone system, doing the work of 150 full-time employees. This both saved you on-hold time and money, through fewer employees. Our reps personally handled nearly 7,000 calls, well into the night.

When the lights go out, you know we’re committed to getting you back on line as quickly and safely as possible. Yet we don’t often detail what lengths our employees in the field go through to restore power. This outage wasn’t typical, given the number of damaged structures, but our response was – working as a team to provide the best service possible for our customers.

View photos of the windstorm damage as well as the crews’ efforts in restoration. 
Published: 6/9/2010  2:15 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 08 , 2010
Follow Jessie on Twitter: @AvistaCares

Avista Foundation
One of the best parts of working at Avista – and there are many – is getting to write about how our company partners with community organizations to improve the health and well-being of people who live in our service territory. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve seen some of my posts on topics like our CEO’s direct involvement in United Way, our employees’ generous giving to Tom’s Turkey Drive at Thanksgiving, as well as clothing and food banks, just to name a couple of examples.

There’s another way that we partner with the communities we serve – through grants from the Avista Foundation (www.avistafoundation.org). The Foundation just completed its second round of donations for 2010. There are always more requests than dollars to support them. That’s why the Foundation’s board of directors carefully studies each request, makes sure the organization is sound and assures the request falls within the guidelines for giving, namely for K-12 education and higher education particularly in the fields of science, math and technology; for assistance to those on limited incomes and for initiatives to reduce poverty; and for projects that help communities and citizens to grow and prosper.

One grant made this quarter will help support a job training program in Spokane for low income and homeless women. The New Leaf Bakery-Café provides job training opportunities for low income and homeless women so they can gain work readiness skills to overcome the barriers to mainstream employment. Tell me more.

Another grant will help complete a new roof at Alliance House in Moscow, Idaho, a place that houses people with severe mental illness, giving them a safe place to live. Tell me more.

And the Foundation also made a grant to Kids Unlimited of Oregon, in Medford, Ore., to support the renovation of a building to house evening, weekend and summer programs so low income kids are more likely to stay and finish their educations. Tell me more.

The people who benefit from these and the other programs receiving grants from the Avista Foundation are your neighbors. They are part of the fabric of our community. We’re pleased that we can be part of weaving the threads together for stronger, more livable communities for everyone.
 
Published: 6/8/2010  3:38 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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