Oct 22 , 2012
Settlement provides more certainty for you to manage your energy costs over the next two years
Post by Anna Scarlett
Today we announced a settlement agreement with several parties on the electric and natural gas general rate requests we filed back in April. The settlement, if approved by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC), would mean a modest two-phase rate increase in electric and natural gas rates. The first would take effect Jan. 1, 2013 and the second on Jan. 1 of 2014.
Better yet, we’ve agreed not to request additional general rate increases that would take effect before Jan. 1 of 2015. This doesn’t mean we wouldn’t adjust rates based on wholesale natural gas costs before then (remember, that’s a separate part of your bill). For more information about how we adjust those costs, read our Natural Gas Pricing 101 series.
But what it does mean is that you’ll have more certainty in your energy rates for the next two years, so you can better plan to manage your energy costs. And your energy prices will still be among the lowest in the nation.
The bottom line
If the commission approves the settlement and you are an Avista electric customer, you would see two separate rate increases:
· Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, if you use an average of 989 kilowatt hours a month, you would see an increase of $1.20 per month, which equates to about 4 cents a day, for a revised bill of $78.69.
· Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, if you use an average of 989 kilowatt hours a month, you would see an additional increase of $1.60 per month, or about 5 cents a day, for a revised bill of $80.29.
Here’s how the changes, if approved, would affect you as a natural gas customer:
· Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, the first 70 therms of your bill would actually cost a little less. This means an average monthly bill for 68 therms would decrease by about 38 cents to $60.37. For every therm you use over 70, you would see an increase of about 10 cents per month. So, if your usage is less than 70 therms a month, through energy efficiency efforts, for example, you will really see the benefit of this change.
· Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, if you use an average of 68 therms a month, you would see an increase of 57 cents a month, or about 2 cents a day, for a revised monthly bill of $60.94.
The settlement and what’s next
You may be wondering what a rate case settlement agreement is and how it all works. When Avista files a request to increase rates, it goes through a process much like a legal proceeding. Parties representing various groups including residential, small-business, low-income, and natural gas industrial customers, take part and submit testimony and proposals on behalf of their groups.
The commission oversees this process, and is charged with setting rates that are fair, just, and reasonable for customers, while allowing Avista the opportunity to earn a fair return on the investment shareholders make so we can continue delivering safe, reliable energy. When we can reach an agreement like this one, it saves time and the cost of a fully litigated rate case. It is ultimately up to the commission to approve the request.
In addition to Avista, the parties to the proposed settlement are the Staff of the WUTC, Northwest Industrial Gas Users, Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities and The Energy Project, a low-income customer advocacy group. The Public Counsel Section of the Washington Office of the Attorney General and the Northwest Energy Coalition did not join in the Settlement Agreement. The WUTC sets the schedule for next steps, which include hearing testimony from the parties. For more information, see the WUTC website.
Here are a couple of other resources about how energy rates are set that you might find helpful.
WUTC video: What’s Up (and Down) with Energy Rates?
Avista Rates and Pricing: What’s Driving the Cost of Energy?
Oct 11 , 2012
If increases are approved, your natural gas rates will still be lower than they were at this time last year
This power pole in Hayden, Idaho, has deteriorated
to the point where it needs to be replaced. We have
over 240,000 distribution poles in our electric system.
Based on a 40-year depreciable life, we would need
to replace approximately 6,000 poles every year.
If our requests are approved and you’re an electric residential customer in Idaho using an average of 930 kilowatt hours per month, you would see an increase of $4.20 per month, or about 14 cents a day, for a revised bill of $82.89. If you’re a natural gas customer using an average of 60 therms per month, you would see an increase of $4.12, or about 14 cents a day, for a revised monthly bill of $56.67. The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has up to seven months to approve our requests, and the increases wouldn’t take effect until sometime next year.
You may be thinking we just heard about a rate decrease, so why an increase? The costs of delivering energy to you safely and reliably continue to rise. We work hard to manage our costs, while making sure you have the reliable energy that you expect, at some of the lowest prices in the Northwest. The good news is we’ve been able to pass savings from lower natural gas prices and power costs through to you with multiple rate decreases, and we hope this will help soften the impact of the rising costs of delivery to your energy bill.
Rates have decreased throughout 2012
Effective Oct. 1, if you are an Idaho customer, you saw decreases in both natural gas and electric rates
because of lower natural gas prices and lower power supply costs, after the Idaho Public Utilities Commission approved our rate decrease requests filed in July. Your rates have decreased your natural gas rates twice this year, dropping them by approximately 12 percent overall. In fact, even if today’s rate increase request is approved, your natural gas rates will still be lower than they were at this time last year – and around what they were 10 years ago. Electric rates have remained fairly flat as well when you adjust for inflation.
We’re maintaining and upgrading our system for you
Maintaining and upgrading our energy-delivery system is ongoing, and costs more with each passing year. It’s a little like taking care of your home or car. You always have maintenance and operation costs, and sometimes you have to upgrade or update old equipment with new. And that’s expensive. For instance, if you remodel your kitchen, new appliances cost much more than the old ones did when they were purchased.
To serve all of our customers in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, Avista has an extensive system that we have to take care of. To do this, we expect to invest approximately $250 million each year for the next three to five years to continue updating and maintaining our system to serve our customers’ energy needs.
Help is available if you’re struggling with bills
We realize in these difficult economic times it can be a struggle for people to meet their basic needs. We offer services for customers such as comfort level billing, payment arrangements and CARES (Customer Assistance Referral and Evaluation Services) representatives. Our CARES reps are specially-trained employees who provide referrals to area agencies and churches for customers with special needs for help with housing, utilities, medical assistance, and other needs. To learn more, visit www.avistautilities.com
Oct 09 , 2012
I-937 requires Avista to have 3 percent eligible renewable resources, renewable energy credits (RECs) or a combination of both in 2012
Avista’s been generating renewable energy for a long time – after all we were founded on hydropower more than a century ago. But starting in 2012 renewable energy has officially become a required part of our energy portfolio.
In addition to meeting our customers’ energy needs, Avista has to meet renewable portfolio standards detailed in Washington’s Energy Independence Act. Washington state voters approved the act with the passage of Initiative-937 in 2006. It requires us to use eligible renewable resources, renewable energy credits (RECs) or a combination of both to meet the following annual targets: 3 percent of energy used to meet customer demand by Jan. 1, 2012, 9 percent by Jan. 1, 2016 and 15 percent by Jan. 1, 2020.
We will meet the majority of our 2012 requirements simply by doing what we had already planned to do – upgrading our hydroelectric dams, primarily those on the Clark Fork River
. We upgraded the generating units at Cabinet Gorge Dam from 2001 to 2007, replacing the original turbines, which were installed in the 1950s. And at Noxon Rapids Dam, we just finished upgrading all four original generating units with new turbines. We did this work to extend the life and capacity of our dams. And with the modern turbines, we can generate more energy using the same amount of water. Better yet, since the upgrades were done after 1999, the additional energy qualified as an eligible renewable resource to meet our state mandates.
The next big deadline will be 2016, and while it’s still a few years away, we’ve been planning for it for some time. Over the past several years, we followed the market and looked for opportunities to incorporate additional cost-effective sources of renewable power. Lower costs of developing wind power facilities and ongoing tax incentives set to expire at the end of 2012 led us to a request for proposals in early 2011, and later that year we signed a power purchase agreement with the Palouse Wind Project, which has the added benefit of being located in our service territory. Palouse Wind
has added value in the form of the renewable energy credits it provides. From time to time, we sell surplus RECs that result from the generation of power from renewable resources that exceed our need to meet state requirements. Sales of excess credits help offset and lower power costs for customers.
A more recent accomplishment gives us even more flexibility in meeting our renewable energy mandates. As one of the first biomass plants of its kind in the country, Kettle Falls has been generating renewable, dependable energy for more than 25 years. We’ve been working since 2008 to get the energy generated at Kettle Falls recognized in Washington state as renewable, and in March of 2012, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed SB 5575 into law. The bill qualifies biomass energy projects built before 1999 as eligible renewable resources. As a result of the bill’s passage, the energy generated at Avista’s Kettle Falls biomass plant will qualify to meet our renewable requirements beginning in 2016. This will save our customers millions of dollars that we might otherwise have to spend to acquire or build more renewable energy to meet our state mandates.
Oct 01 , 2012
If you’re an Avista customer in Idaho, we’ve got good news for you just in time for the cooler months of fall and winter. Beginning today and through the winter months, depending on your energy usage, you’ll see lower electric and natural gas rates. That’s because last week the Idaho Public Utilities Commission approved several rate decrease requests
we filed in July.
Rates for our natural gas customers in Idaho have decreased twice this year because of lower wholesale prices. Overall, natural gas rates have dropped by almost 12 percent in 2012.
Today’s decreases are mostly because of lower natural gas prices and lower power supply costs. You might remember we reduced natural gas rates for Idaho customers in March by 6 percent. Like then, abundant supplies of natural gas and lower demand have continued to push wholesale natural gas prices downward. That’s good news. Why? Because we pass those savings directly through to you. The cost of purchasing natural gas on the wholesale market is around 40 percent of your bill, so it makes a difference.
The same can be said for electricity. About 60 cents of every dollar you pay for electricity goes towards generating or purchasing the energy itself. So when power supply costs are lower, it means your bill is a little lower. And every little bit adds up.
Starting today, if you use an average of 939 kilowatt-hours per month, you’ll see your electricity bill decrease $1.09 per month to $79.46. If you are a natural gas customer using an average of 60 therms a month, you will see your bill decrease $3.23 to $52.55 per month.
Sep 25 , 2012
What are public hearings on rates all about?
You may have heard about public hearings for Avista’s current Washington general rate request, which will take place this week in Spokane and Spokane Valley. If you are a Washington customer of Avista, you’ve also received a notice in your bill about the hearings.
These hearings, scheduled by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, are part of the normal general rate case process. Customers can comment on the current request either at the hearings, by mail or online, and we encourage our customers to participate in the process.
The first hearing is scheduled on Sept. 27, from 6-7:30 p.m. in the City of Spokane Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., Spokane. A second hearing is scheduled on Sept. 28, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the City of Spokane Valley Council Chambers, 11707 E. Sprague Ave., Spokane Valley.
If you can’t make a hearing or prefer to submit your comment in writing, you can do so by writing to: WA UTC / P.O. Box 47250, Olympia, WA, 98504-7250, or comment online at www.utc.wa.gov/comment
Avista filed a request with the Commission on April 2, 2012, seeking to recover costs for investments in upgrading infrastructure to assure the ongoing delivery of reliable energy, along with rising operating and maintenance expenses. Read more about our request in our April Blog post.
If you’ve also heard about requests we’ve made to decrease rates and you want more information, please read our previous blog posts
Sep 17 , 2012
So, there's a gas decrease request and a request for an increase and a . . . well, it's confusing at times. Let us explain.
Question for the day: Have you ever thought about what makes up your natural gas bill?
Other than looking at how much our monthly bill is and maybe how much energy we used the last month, most of us don’t give it a thought.
As an Avista customer, every dollar you pay for natural gas service on average is made up of three different components – the wholesale cost of the natural gas used (41 cents), the cost for transporting that gas from the producer to Avista’s distribution system (13 cents), and the cost for the people, equipment and services needed to deliver that gas to your home (46 cents).
Last Thursday, we asked the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to allow Avista to decrease natural gas rates for the second time this year by an additional overall 4.4 percent because wholesale natural gas prices continue to decline. You can read more about the request in the news release
If our request is approved by the UTC, the new lower rates would be effective Nov. 1, making Washington residential natural gas rates over 11 percent lower than at the beginning of this year. This requested decrease is in the wholesale cost of gas (41 cents) and fixed transportation (13 cents) portions of your bill.
If you’re a Washington customer, you may have seen an insert in your August energy bill that provides information on a different Avista rate request
called a general rate case. That request was made last April to increase both electric and natural gas rates. So, why are we asking to decrease and increase natural gas rates at the same time?
The natural gas portion of the general rate case is for the delivery portion (46 cents) of your bill – the people, equipment and services needed to safely and reliably deliver natural gas to you. The request to increase natural gas rates by an overall 5.9 percent is to recover increasing costs to operate and maintain the natural gas system. The UTC has up to 11 months from when the request was made to review and issue a decision.
Rates are complex and can be confusing, so we have a short video that gives more information
on the general rate case process. Information on Avista’s general rate case, including upcoming public hearings, is available in the Notice of Request for Rate Increase brochure that was in your August Avista bill. If you missed the insert click this link
to check it out.
Sep 12 , 2012
Visitors to the area near Monroe Street Dam will see a crane relocating rock, gravel and sediment that
has accumulated at Monroe Street Dam in downtown Spokane.
Periodic maintenance of the dam helps ensure safe and efficient hydropower
This week, Avista has begun removing and relocating rock, gravel and sediment that has accumulated at Monroe Street Dam in downtown Spokane, in accordance with state permits.
After a crane operator dredges the Monroe Street
Dam forebay, we contract with a professional diver
to go down to the base of the dam to remove
accumulated material that the crane can’t get.
Click on the video above to see underwater
footage of an Associated Underwater Services
(AUS) diver removing material from the intake
gate. The footage is courtesy of AUS.
High and extended river flows earlier this spring caused large amounts of rocks, gravel and other materials to accumulate at the dam. When rocks and other materials pile up in front of the dam, they block the intake structure, which lowers our generating capacity. This periodic maintenance of the dam prevents damage to the intake structure and allows us to maintain power production.
Over the next two to three weeks, a crane located near the southern part of the dam will collect the accumulated materials from the forebay, the area immediately upstream of the dam, and then place them back into the river below the dam.
“Public safety and protecting the surrounding environment are Avista’s top priorities as we do this work,” said Speed Fitzhugh, Spokane River license manager for Avista. “Redistributing the materials back into the river will allow them to continue to serve as a potential gravel source for spawning habitat in the lower Spokane River.”
Visitors should keep clear of the crane, which will be fenced in for safety reasons. For your safety, please stay out of the river in this area and keep clear of designated work areas.
About Monroe Street Dam
Avista's first hydroelectric development, Monroe Street Dam has been producing power since 1890 – longer than any other hydroelectric development currently in operation in the state of Washington.
Avista, then Washington Water Power, constructed the dam at a natural waterfall at Spokane's Lower Falls. The dam was rebuilt in 1974, and a new underground powerhouse was built in 1992. Since Monroe Street Dam is a low head concrete gravity dam designed and built to provide aesthetically pleasing flows, it doesn’t have spill gates that allow for rocks and other natural materials to pass through. Since the reconstruction in the 1970s, Avista has periodically removed and relocated natural materials about every two years to ensure the plant is generating power safely and efficiently.
After a crane operator dredges the Monroe Street Dam forebay, we contract with a professional diver to go down to the base of the dam to remove accumulated material that the crane can’t get.
Click on the video above to see underwater footage of an Associated Underwater Services (AUS) diver removing material from the intake gate. The footage is courtesy of AUS.
Sep 05 , 2012
Copper wire similar to this coil, was stolen from a
North Spokane substation, causing a 1.5 hour
power outage for roughly 3,600 Avista customers
Post by Dan Kolbet
This morning’s one hour and 30 minute power outage
that impacted roughly 3,600 North Spokane customers was caused by copper theft at a substation near Spokane Falls Community College. Thieves stole copper from the substation and also damaged communications equipment.
The theft was not the first time this year that thieves targeted Avista substations in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene area. Copper is traditionally used by utilities to ground the electrical equipment in substations that help deliver customers’ power. Thieves tend to snip the copper ground wires that help the electrical system maintain an even electrical voltage and complete the electrical circuit.
The outage occurred around 7 a.m. this morning, a time when customers begin to use more power as the morning progresses. The substation was forced offline, causing the outage. Avista rerouted power through additional substations nearby, to get power restored to customers quickly.
While all customers are back in service now, the substation remained offline throughout the day as repairs were made.
Copper theft is a serious crime that endangers the general public, Avista employees and of course the thieves themselves.
Avista was instrumental in passing a 2007 Washington state law making it harder to sell metals without proper documentation. The law requires that buyers of scrap metal help law enforcement identify sellers of illegally obtained metal. (RCW 19.290).
Aug 31 , 2012
Avista’s aesthetic spills project benefits begin to unfold as water levels decrease
These two photos of Spokane River’s north channel
in Riverfront Park illustrate the difference Avista’s
aesthetic spills project makes. The one on the top
was taken before the project began, with river flows
at 500 cubic feet per second (CFS). The one on the
bottom was taken this month, with river flows at 300
What a difference an aesthetic flows project makes.
If you compare the river during this time of year to
years past, you will notice the falls are flowing with
water. These photos were taken from Post Street
Bridge facing east towards Canada Island in River
-front Park. The top photo was taken before the
project began, with river flows at 500 cubic feet per
second (CFS). The photo at the bottom was taken
this month, with river flows at 300 CFS. Even though
there is less water flow, restoring the riverbed to
more of a natural state provides many aesthetic
and environmental benefits.
If you live in or visit Spokane in the final weeks of summer, you might take the opportunity to go look at the north and south channels of the Spokane River flows
in Riverfront Park. If you compare the river during this time of year to years past, you will notice the falls are flowing with water.
Each summer, usually in July or August, river flows decrease substantially. In the past, this left the two channels dry with just a trickle of water flowing through the south channel.
In the summer of 2010, as part of the aesthetic spills requirement in our federal license to operate Upper Falls Dam, Avista and several stakeholder groups took part in a assessing test flows to determine whether permanent channel modifications could enhance the view of the river during periods of low river flow. These groups, including the City of Spokane
, Friends of the Falls
, Spokane Canoe and Kayak Club
, the Friends of the Centennial Trail
and The Sierra Club
were trying to learn whether the same or better, aesthetic effects could be achieved with 300 cubic feet per second (CFS) flowing through the two channels, than 500 CFS would without modifications.
During the aesthetic spill test, biologists also assessed the impact of potential channel modifications to fish and fish habitat in the river through the park and downstream.
The test was successful, and last year, Avista and its contractors, Land Expressions LLC
, gave the south and north channels a makeover to help restore the Spokane River’s beauty to a more natural state, the way it once was before early developers in Spokane cut into the bedrock to collect water during dry times. The enhancements, using “weirs"
that look like the natural bedrock in the river, spread water more evenly throughout the Upper Falls’ two channels that run north and south of Canada Island. Combined, they produce an aesthetically pleasing flow of water that viewers can enjoy throughout the year.
“Avista and our contractors took a new and creative approach to restoring the falls to a more natural state,” said Spokane River License Manager Speed Fitzhugh. “We matched the color, shape and texture of the weirs to that of the bedrock to produce seamless, natural looking river flows. As far as we’ve been able to determine, it’s the first project of its kind in North America.”
You may remember this year we had a longer than normal run-off season, with high, fast river flows in the Spokane and other area rivers. Thanks to the collaborative effort of Avista, our stakeholders and contractors, visitors to downtown Spokane no longer have to look at a dry riverbed during the warm summer days.
Protecting natural resources and operating our dams responsibly helps us continue to generate clean, reliable and cost-effective hydroelectric power for our customers. Last year’s aesthetic spills project on the Spokane River has improved the scenery in downtown Spokane and recreated habitat for fish, birds, and other local wildlife, something that we can all be proud of for generations to come.
If you pig out in the park this weekend, check out the falls
If you happen to visit Riverfront Park for Pig Out in the Park or for any other event or reason, you can check out the falls yourself. KXLY’s Jeff Humphrey covered the aesthetic spills project in this week’s news and interviewed Avista’s Spokane River License Manager, Speed Fitzhugh.
Aug 30 , 2012
When you think about how your electricity is generated you probably think it comes mainly from hydropower
. But did you know that Avista also uses natural gas as a fuel to generate electricity? In fact, it makes up 36% of our company owned electric power plants
. Natural gas generation is a dependable source of energy because the fuel can be stored to generate electricity anytime, and it has about half the carbon emissions of other fossil fuels, such as coal.
Avista and Portland General Electric co-own a combined cycle natural gas plant called Coyote Springs, located in Boardman, Oregon. The plant has 2 main generation units, and Avista owns Unit 2.
A combined cycle plant has a gas turbine and a steam unit all in one. These types of units are considered very efficient because they use the waste heat from the gas turbine to create steam, instead of exhausting it back into the atmosphere.
Unlike a simple cycle gas plant, which can be fired up quickly to meet the electricity generation needs of customers, the combined cycle plant at Coyote Springs is considered a “base load” facility because the natural gas generator needs to run consistently in order to provide heat for the steam generator.
Like a car, there are certain maintenance activities that need to take place after a number of years. This year, unit 2 had its first scheduled major maintenance since the unit went in service in 2002.
The project involves overhauling the natural gas and steam generators in unit 2. From start to finish, the project takes approximately six weeks to complete and a great deal of collaboration and teamwork.
The end result of the maintenance is that Unit 2 at Coyote Springs will continue to have the capacity to generate an average of 280 megawatts of power for our customers – that’s enough electricity for just over 210,000 homes.