Sep 01 , 2010
 
Today is a great day. Our interactive online feature, Energy on the Street is now live and ready for your questions. This summer I attended several community events and went to public places and talked to many Avista customers about energy. The ultimate goal was to gather their questions – the things they cared about most. I then took those questions and got answers to the most pressing topics from my co-workers, who happen to be experts in the fields discussed.

The web launch today at www.avistautilities.com/street is really just the beginning of this project. Currently posted are six videos, which span an array of topics. We’ll post additional videos every few weeks through the fall. So hopefully you’ll check back often.

I’ve been writing about this project for a few months now on the blog and on Twitter. We announced where we’d be filming and even posted pictures of customers and employees talking with us. You can read every blog post here. I think this really speaks to the transparency of the project. We truly want our customers to know what we’re up to and to participate.

We want your questions
We’re ready to answer your additional questions and I know from participating in online forums – and even talking to family and friends at BBQs this summer – that more questions are out there. If you have a question that you’d like Avista to answer on camera, send it to me in an e-mail at Conversation@avistautilities.com and we’ll make it happen.
 
Visit Energy on the Street

 
Published: 9/1/2010  8:39 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 31 , 2010

Does it seem like Avista is in the news every week about some type of rate change? Earlier this month we told you about the settlement agreement in the Washington electric and natural gas rate requests we filed last March, and the end of July we told you about the settlement agreement in the Idaho cases we also filed in March.

Today a different type of Avista rate request is in the news – the annual Purchase Gas Cost Adjustment (PGA) that we filed with the public utility commission in Oregon. Avista and other natural gas utilities in the Northwest typically file these requests each fall to true-up the difference between the costs of wholesale natural gas purchased to serve customers with the amount included in rates. PGAs have no impact on company earnings, since the cost of the natural gas is passed through to customers without being marked up.

Wholesale natural gas prices go up or down depending on market conditions, so some years the PGA may mean a rate increase to customers and some years a decrease in rates. Last year natural prices decreased by 21 percent for our Oregon customers and by about 30 percent for our Washington and Idaho customers. Robust natural gas supplies and lower demand caused the steep decline in wholesale natural gas prices that we passed on to our customers.

Today we requested to decrease natural gas prices for our Oregon customers by another 2.1 percent, effective on November 1. Since Avista is a regulated utility, any change in customer rates, including a decrease, must be thoroughly reviewed and approved by the state’s utility commission.

We’d like to hear what you think about natural gas prices or any other topic that’s on your mind. Post a comment in the block below or send us an email at conversation@avistautilities.com.
Published: 8/31/2010  1:08 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 31 , 2010
Play video
 
Avista crews compete in pole-top rescue
 
Post by Dan Kolbet
 
Just a quick little video. I was invited by Avista’s Safety and Health department to our training center today to watch our crews compete in an internal, pole-top rescue competition. They compete to rescue a co-worker who is stuck in some way at the top of a utility pole.
 
They actually let me up in a bucket truck to shoot it (preceded by a safety briefing and a securely fit harness). Pretty cool.  I’ll get the full video loaded in a day or two, but wanted to let everyone know it’s coming.
Published: 8/31/2010  12:37 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 27 , 2010
Energy on the Street interview
Energy on the Street interview
Energy on the Street interview
Customers talk with Communications Manager Dan
Kolbet during Energy on the Street interviews.
Post by Dan Kolbet

I want to give a quick update on Energy on the Street. We’ve filmed answers for nearly all of the questions we’re placing on our website. Schedules have been a bit of a bear with summer vacations ending and I suspect we’ll get some more filming done within the next two weeks.

We had to create new pieces of the Avista Utilities website and I’ve received great support for the project from the guys building the pages. There’s nothing quite like starting from scratch, “Hey, I’ve got these videos I’d like to share with the world . . .”

If you haven’t heard yet, Energy on the Street is a project I’m working on that is all about your questions. The goal is to get Avista customers answers to their questions about energy and anything related to Avista. I attended several community events with a camera crew and captured customer questions. I took those questions back to Avista and asked my co-workers – experts on the subjects – to answer them on camera.

It’s been a great experience for me to meet so many different customers who I otherwise would probably never have talked to. The people I met were very nice, insightful individuals who had unique concerns and questions about the future of energy in our country and what their local utility is doing about it.

We’ll release the site to all of you in early September with six videos. I’ll post new videos every few weeks through the fall. My hope is that when people visit the site, they will come up with more questions that they want answers too and e-mail me at conversation@avistautilities.com. I’ll get those answers too. In fact, you can even shoot your question and we’ll use your actual video. Send me an e-mail and let’s get started. 

It sounds like we’re probably going to do some radio spots to promote the site and get customers (who aren’t regularly reading the Avista Blog) to know it’s out there. I haven’t done radio before so this will be a bit of a challenge, but I think I’ve been pretty open about my feelings about this project and I’ll do my best to share that during the radio spots. So if you hear some guy on the radio, calling himself “Dan at Avista,” yep, that’s me.

The countdown has started. I can’t wait to release the Energy on the Street site for you in early September.
Published: 8/27/2010  1:42 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 27 , 2010
Testing on the Spokane River
Note the white sandbags, called weirs, lined up in the Spokane River. These temporary dams help divert
water during the aesthetic spill tests. They will be removed from the river once testing is complete.
 
Post by Dan Kolbet

We received this message to
conversation@avistautilities.com yesterday from a concerned customer. I thought this might be a question that other customers may be asking, so I’ve posted the full e-mail and our reply below.

E-mail
I have seen the crews at work on the Aesthetic Spill Pilot Test in the River Front Park area. It appears the purpose of this pilot test is to assess the feasibility of diverting water that would normally flow through the south channel to the north channel. Do any practical benefits exist for this kind of diversion? Or, as the pilot study name suggests, are the benefits purely aesthetic?

If the no practical benefits exist, I object to the use of my utility rates for a purely aesthetic project which only benefits a small portion of the rate paying customers.

Please shed some light on the driving force for this project.
-Jesse

Reply
Dear Jesse, Thanks for your inquiry about the work being done on the Spokane River channels in Riverfront Park.

As you may know, we received a new operating license for our hydro facilities last year. With the new license came some new conditions that we are required to meet. Among those is an aesthetic spill in the north and middle channels of the river.

Currently the requirement is for a minimum 500 cfs to be diverted from the south channel. But there is a provision in the license that allows us to attempt to modify the riverbed so that we can make the flows just as appealing with only 300 cfs.

What we are doing is filling in the artificial cuts in the rock that were done in the early days of Spokane’s development. These were done to divert naturally low river flows to various mill wheels and laundries, etc. Those same cuts prevent the aesthetic affect that people want to see in the river.

Presently we have a group of stakeholders evaluating the modified river flows for the most effective configuration. Once that is established we can begin to make permanent modifications and hopefully divert less generating water from the powerhouse at Upper Falls.

I hope that addresses your concerns. Please let me know if you have further questions.

-Hugh Imhof, Avista Communications Manager
 
Published: 8/27/2010  9:01 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 25 , 2010
Group reviewing Spokane River work.
The evaluation team takes a look at the river from one of 10 public viewpoints Wednesday morning,
August 25. The group will suggest changes to the temporary dams and come back for a second and
possibly third look at spills through the two channels. Evaluators include representatives of Spokane Parks
and Recreation, Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club, Sierra Club, Washington Department of Ecology, Center
for Environmental Law and Policy, Avista, Friends of the Falls, and others.
 
 
Normally at this time of the year, the north and middle channels of the Spokane River in downtown Spokane, what many of us know as Spokane Falls, look pretty dry. That’s because in the past during the dry summer months, natural conditions and Avista’s hydropower operations have resulted in little or no flow through that part of the river. That all changed last year with the issuance of Avista’s new 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory license to operate our Spokane River Project, which includes Upper Falls and Monroe Street Dams in downtown Spokane. As a result of the relicensing process, we must now release minimum aesthetic spills around the clock at both Upper Falls and Monroe Street. That began this summer, and you may have noticed more water flowing through the falls in July and early August.

Spokane River during test
But there’s more to it than that. If you’ve been to Riverfront Park in the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably noticed something else in the river. Cranes, sandbags, and workers have been busy preparing for an aesthetic spills pilot test at Upper Falls Dam. This test will help us determine whether permanent channel modifications can be made to bring the riverbed closer to its natural state, the way it was before early developers in Spokane cut into the bedrock to divert the water during dry times.  We’re hoping to enhance aesthetic appeal even more during periods of low river flow. Our license requires us to do this study to learn whether the same, or a better, aesthetic effect can achieved with daytime releases of 300cfs and channel modifications, as the current daytime release of 500 cfs does, without modifications.

Avista’s Upper Falls Dam is located where the river splits into two channels around Havermale Island in Riverfront Park. The southernmost channel forms the forebay that provides water to the powerhouse, and the northern channel passes through the control works dam and splits again into two smaller channels that run north and south of Canada Island. These are referred to as the north and south (or middle) channels. These two channels are where the pilot test is occurring, and we hope that as a result of this work, viewers of the river downtown will have a pleasant experience no matter what time of year it is.

Last week we temporarily interrupted normal aesthetic spills and placed several small, temporary dams made with sandbags, called weirs, throughout the channels. These weirs divert the flow of water throughout the channels, and this week, an evaluation team made up of representatives of stakeholders, agencies and the public is viewing test spills and giving their feedback as we release 300 cfs through the two channels. Team members will make judgments based on their sense of sound, coverage, depth and power of the water as it moves through the channels. The feedback we receive will help us determine whether to move forward with permanent channel modifications next year.

Next week, we’ll remove all of the equipment and materials from the river, and we’ll return to normal aesthetic spills the following week. Then, if the outcome of the pilot test shows us that permanent modifications are the way to go, the real work begins.

So far, we’re excited about the potential of this project. We’re hoping the result is a cascading waterfall effect throughout both channels of the river that visitors and the community can enjoy all summer long. And this collaborative effort could indeed accomplish that, possibly restoring at least some of the river’s natural beauty that was lost through the development of Spokane over the past 100 or more years.
Published: 8/25/2010  4:39 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 25 , 2010
Posted by Debbie Simock

Today we announced a settlement agreement in the electric and natural gas rate requests Avista filed with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) last March. As in the Idaho requests, filed at the same time, the rate changes were requested to recover the costs of buying and generating power and upgrading the equipment needed to deliver the safe, reliable energy our customers need.  Watch this video to learn more about the drivers of the rate filings and the rates process.

If the agreement is approved by the WUTC, a residential customer using an average of 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month would see an increase of $5.62 a month, or 7.8 percent, for a revised monthly bill of $77.41. A natural gas customer using an average of 69 therms a month would see a $2.17 increase, or 3.6 percent, for a revised monthly bill of $62.20. The new prices would take effect Dec. 1.

We know the rising cost of energy impacts families, especially those on limited incomes and seniors. That’s why the settlement agreement includes an increase in our Low Income Rate Assistance Program, or LIRAP, which provides energy assistance to qualifying customers. We’re also increasing funding for our energy efficiency programs for limited-income customers.

The next step in this rates request is a public hearing being held by the WUTC in Spokane on Oct. 6, at 5:30 p.m., in the Spokane City Council Chambers. This open meeting will provide customers with an opportunity to provide comments to the commissioners.

You may have questions about this proposed rate change in Washington or any other topic and we’d like to help answer them. You can post a comment on this blog or send us an email to conversation@avistautilities.com.
 
Published: 8/25/2010  11:03 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 17 , 2010
play video
 
 
Post by Dan Kolbet

Hey, everyone. I wanted to share a quick clip of the video I took on the Spokane River last week.

This video shows the removal and relocation of accumulated rock, gravel and sediment at Monroe Street Dam. The crane grabs the materials and places them over the dam and back into the river. This material is the stuff that naturally flows downriver, but collects behind the dam.

My co-worker Communications Manager Anna Scarlett told me that analytical results of materials sampled back in July indicated that sediments were within Washington’s acceptable standards for contaminants. Relocation of the materials over the spillway back into the river is required by federal and state permits to operate the project, and redistributing the materials back into the river will allow them to continue to serve as a potential gravel source for spawning habitat in the Spokane River system.

More work on the river will continue in the next few weeks as we study whether channel modifications can be made to enhance aesthetic flows in the north and middle channels during periods of low river flow.
Published: 8/17/2010  2:10 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 16 , 2010
2010 Sustainablity Report
Post by Jessie Wuerst

We’re not the kind of company that toots our own horn very often – that’s not really our style. But just this once, we’d like to whistle a note or two. Our 2010 Sustainability Report recently was affirmed as meeting the “B” Level content standards of the Global Reporting Initiative – the international standards setter for sustainability reporting.

B
 
Given three levels of reporting – C (the entry level), B and A – we knew that the mid-range level was a good fit for our reporting about our impacts on the environment, the economy and our society…at least for now. And after review of our report by the Netherlands-based GRI, we were pleased that they agreed with the level and quality of information we provided.

Take a look at the blog posting we did when the report was issued: “Sustainability means more than just being green” or visit our report here. We hope you find it of interest.

An important part of reporting is making sure the content is aligned with what our stakeholders – customers, shareholders and others – want to know about us. If you click on the Feedback link in the report there’s an easy way for you to tell us what you think of our 2010 report and give us your thoughts about what should be included in the next one. We know that we’re on the right track, and we’re committed to making these reports informative, transparent and as useful to you as possible.
Published: 8/16/2010  11:15 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Aug 12 , 2010
811 video, click to play
 
These guys always call before they dig.
Three of the fine gentlemen I met at Home Depot
who visited Avista's educational stations.
Post and video by Dan Kolbet

Yesterday was National 811 Awareness Day. Avista and the Spokane Valley Home Depot celebrated this day of safety with an in-store event. Avista staffed three booths throughout the store, each focusing on a different element of 811 and reminding us all to call two days before you dig on your property.

In the couple of hours I was there, Home Depot customers were visiting the booths and getting their “passports” signed. Visitors earned a T-Shirt for visiting two booths. Home Depot also donated a nice BBQ grill as a raffle prize.

Check out this minute and a half video about the event, featuring Operations Tech Alicia Gibbs. And remember to always call before you dig.
 
Published: 8/12/2010  8:04 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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