Apr 02 , 2012
We need to invest about $250 million each year over the next five years to continue updating and maintaining our system to serve our customers’ energy needs
 

Noxon Rapids Unit 4 turbine
The new Noxon Rapids Dam Unit 4 turbine is
lowered into place earlier this year. This 4-year,
$45-million project is coming to a close in 2012.
Pole replacement
An employee works to replace old wooden poles
(left) with a new steel structure (right). Steel
structures are more expensive, but typically last
longer than wooden ones.
New power lines
A line crew runs a new, higher-gauge power lines
over a two block distance in downtown Spokane.
Work like this ensures a more reliable system
that’s ready when you need it.
Working safely
An employee wears protective gear while using a
grinder at a natural gas job site in Spokane
Valley. We do our best to work safely on the
system that delivers you energy. 
Today Avista filed requests with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to increase overall net electric rates by 5.9 percent, and natural gas rates by 6.8 percent in Washington only. The UTC has up to 11 months to review the filings and issue a decision.
 
What does this mean to you? If you’re an Avista electric customer in Washington with average use and the Commission approves the requests, you would see an increase of $4.94 per month or about 16 cents a day, for a revised bill of $83.91. If you’re a natural gas customer in Washington with average use, you would see an increase of $4.23, or about 14 cents a day, for a revised monthly bill of $65.78.

So why is Avista asking for more rate increases? The simple answer is that it costs more each year to provide safe, reliable energy to you. Meeting our customers’ energy needs reliably and responsibly, while still complying with state and federal requirements, is our first obligation, even when it costs more.

About 40 percent of your electric bill and 35 percent of your natural gas bill covers the cost of delivery – the equipment and people needed to provide safe, reliable energy service to you. Maintaining and updating our generation plants (some that are more than 100 years old) and substations, along with more than 18,000 miles of power lines, a quarter of a million poles, and nearly 8,000 miles of gas pipeline, is a big job that doesn’t stop, and one that costs more each year. When we replace or update old equipment with new equipment and technology, it costs many times more than when it was installed. It’s much like when you update your older home or vehicle. Imagine replacing flooring, cabinets and appliances in a kitchen built 40 years ago, and how much more those items cost today than they did in the 1970s.

This was the primary reason for the proposed increase in our last request and we expect it to continue to cause a need for increased rates in the future. We’ll need to invest about $250 million each year over the next five years to continue updating and maintaining our system to serve our customers’ energy needs. And, while our customers still pay some of the lowest prices in the northwest, we’re not the only utility facing rising costs and an aging system.

Keeping rates increases as low as possible
Even so, we work hard to manage our own costs and keep rate increases as low as possible. In the filings, Avista proposed a proposed one-year Energy Recovery Mechanism bill decrease, which is a rebate to customers based on power supply costs, to help offset the increase. About 60 percent of a customer’s electric bill and 65 percent of a natural gas bill is the cost of generating or purchasing electricity and purchasing natural gas to meet customer needs. Power supply costs were lower in 2011, due to factors such as declining natural gas prices and favorable hydroelectric conditions.

We also proposed through this request to help ease the burden of the increase on low-income customers with increased funding for Avista’s energy assistance programs.

Don’t forget, Avista offers services for customers such as comfort level billing, payment arrangements and Customer Assistance Referral and Evaluation Services (CARES), which provides assistance to special-needs customers through referrals to area agencies and churches for help with housing, utilities, medical assistance and other needs. To learn more, visit www.avistautilities.com.

Executive salaries in Wash. rates aren’t going up
So what about executive salaries, and how much do the salaries and incentives of our executive officers affect your rates? Not as much as you might think. Avista has proposed that the amount of executive officer salaries and incentives included in rates remain at their 2011 levels.

Approximately 25% of total officer salary and incentives is included in Washington retail rates, which makes up less than ½ a penny of every dollar you pay in rates. This adds up to about 40 cents of your monthly bill if you’re an electric customer with average use, and less than 75 cents if you get both electric and natural gas service. The bottom line is executive salaries aren’t driving energy costs up, rather it’s the rising costs of doing business and taking care of our system.

We realize in these difficult economic times it can be a struggle for people to pay their energy bills. We’ll keep working to reduce costs and improve efficiency while continuing to provide reliable, responsible energy at some of the lowest prices in the Northwest.
 
Published: 4/2/2012  12:57 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 21 , 2012
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Post by Dan Kolbet

Avista worked with crews for Northern Pipeline to relocate almost 2,000 feet of six-inch high pressure main in White City, Oregon over the last month. Work like this helps create reliable service for Avista natural gas customers.
 
This particular project, which shows your rate dollars at work, is estimated to cost around $250,000. These photos show some of the progress happening in the shadow of Mt. McLoughlin.
Published: 3/21/2012  2:52 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 15 , 2012
Flickr slideshow
 
New poles and electric lines assure an efficient electric delivery system

Reliability: Click to View Service Territory Map
As you head west on East Sprague Avenue in the Spokane Valley over the next two to three months, you may notice some construction activity with Avista Utilities trucks and crews working in the area.

In order to continue to serve you with safe, reliable electricity, we’re replacing two miles of old wooden poles with new ones. We are also replacing old, smaller wire with larger wire, which increases the efficiency of our delivery of energy to your homes and businesses. The power lines we are working on provide electricity to the entire Sprague/Appleway corridor and the adjacent areas.

The cost of delivering safe, reliable energy includes maintaining a huge system of pipes, poles, generation facilities and substations. Many parts of our system are 30, 40 and even 50 years old.

What you are witnessing in Spokane Valley and throughout our service territory are your rate dollars at work to provide safe and reliable service.

Upgrades to our infrastructure, such as this two-mile pole and wire replacement project, make up around 40 percent of your bill – the cost of delivering energy, serving our customers and energy conservation. The other 60 percent is the cost of the energy itself – the cost of generating or purchasing electricity.

So the next time you see projects like the one on Sprague, you’ll get a up close and personal view of the kind of work we do all the time to make sure you have safe, reliable and efficient energy to your home or business.

For more stories about reliability, renewable energy, the environment, community, rates and more, visit us here at the Avista Blog often.

Much of this blog post was originally posted on Feb. 15, 2012.

 
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Published: 3/15/2012  2:35 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Mar 02 , 2012
video

Crews reflect on work while installing finishing touches on four-year, $45 million project

Post by Anna Scarlett, Video by Dan Kolbet
 
Autographing turbine
An Avista employee signs Unit 4’s new turbine with
a paint pen prior to its insertion at Noxon Rapids
Dam. They don’t usually autograph their work in this
way, but the project has lasted four years and this
was the last new turbine installed at Noxon, so the
crew wanted to mark the occasion.
It’s a complicated job to turn water, wind, natural gas, coal, or even sunshine into reliable energy. It takes a lot of people and equipment and it doesn’t come free. In fact, about 60 cents of every dollar you pay each month in your electric bill is simply the cost of power, whether it’s power Avista generates at our plants or power we buy on the market.

Avista continues to generate or purchase about half of our energy with hydroelectric power, one of the cleanest, most dependable and most cost-effective energy resources. Investing in our hydroelectric dams makes good sense – some of them are more than 100 years old – and it’s a continual process.

In the case of Noxon Rapids, Avista’s largest hydroelectric dam, in 2012 we’ll be wrapping up our four-year, $45 million project to upgrade all four original generating units, which were installed in the late 1950s, with new turbines. The result? We can make more energy using the same amount of water – enough energy, in fact, to power more than 4,800 homes, or a town nearly the same size as Rathdrum, Idaho. Another benefit: this additional energy qualifies under Washington State’s Energy Independence Act (RCW 19.285) to meet Avista’s Washington state-mandated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements.

The new turbines boast features such as smooth edges and corners and a stainless steel body that weighs just 65 tons (as opposed to the old turbines, massive beasts that weighed around 120 tons.) Removing the old turbines and installing the new ones took thousands of hours of skilled labor and craftsmanship, and many of the crew members have been involved throughout the entire project. Watch the final turbine being installed at Noxon Rapids, and hear from some of the folks that helped make it happen. These are your energy dollars at work.
 
Watch an interview with project engineer P.J. Henscheid as the old Unit 4 turbine is removed back in fall 2011.
Published: 3/2/2012  9:00 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 15 , 2012
photos
 
New poles and electric lines mean a more efficient electric delivery system
 
As you head west on East Sprague Avenue in the Spokane Valley over the next three to four months, you may notice some construction activity with Avista trucks and crews working in the area.

In order to better serve you with safe, reliable electricity, we’re replacing two miles of old wooden poles with new ones. We are also replacing old, smaller wire with larger wire, which increases the efficiency of our delivery of energy to your homes and businesses. The power lines we are working on provide electricity to the entire Sprague/Appleway corridor and the adjacent areas.

The cost of delivering safe, reliable energy includes maintaining a huge system of pipes, poles, generation facilities and substations. Many parts of our system are 30, 40 and even 50 years old.

What you are witnessing is your rate dollars at work to provide safe and reliable service.

Upgrades to our infrastructure, such as this two-mile pole and wire replacement project, make up around 40 percent of your bill – the cost of delivering energy, serving our customers and energy conservation. The other 60 percent is the cost of the energy itself – the cost of generating or purchasing electricity.

So the next time you see projects like the one on Sprague, you’ll get a up close and personal view of the kind of work we do all the time to make sure you have safe, reliable and efficient energy to your home or business.

Some quick facts about delivering energy to you:
• Avista provides electric service to 357,000 customers and natural gas 317,000 homes and businesses across 30,000 square miles. Our service territory spans portions of three states.
• Distribution lines: Avista has more than 18,000 miles of distribution lines traveling from substations to homes and businesses.
• Avista has more than 240,000 distribution wood poles and 33,000 transmission wood poles in its electric system. The average distribution pole costs about $620 each.
• About 68 percent of the wood poles supporting Avista’s 230kV transmission lines are at least 45 years old.
Published: 2/15/2012  2:42 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Feb 02 , 2012
Attention and care for customer's bungalow and garden were integral to Smart Circuits project
 
 
Customer home and garden
Avista crews took careful measures recently to ensure
no damage was done to a customer’s historic 1912
bungalow and garden during the installation of a
utility pole nearby. The work was part of Avista’s
Smart Circuits project. We listened to our customer’s
concerns and modified our plan to everyone’s
satisfaction. It might be a big project, but we know
how much each interaction matters.

Have you had a similar experience with Avista?
Let us know.
Poles and electric wires – up above, down below, on the street and by your home. It’s a necessity, and a fundamental part of our business. So every day, Avista is out in neighborhoods placing poles and wires, or replacing them as they age or when new technology comes out to serve you better.

The work we do could literally be in your own back yard – and we want you to be happy with it. Such was the case with Avista customers, Jim and Ann Price, whose historic 1912 bungalow and garden in Spokane had to be accessed in order to place a new pole in a utility easement on his property. The job also entailed removing a very old pole from an adjoining lot.

This specific work, which is part of the Spokane Smart Circuits project, is part of a design to replace large power lines that connect different areas of our system on the South Hill.

The couple was concerned about how Avista and other contractors were going to bring the equipment in on their property to place the pole. Typical equipment used to place power poles would not be able to negotiate the small gravel driveway without threatening irreparable harm to either the bungalow or the garden.

The Construction Project Coordinator for the project, John Hanna, took the time to listen to the couple and work with them.

“After listening to the Mr. Price’s concerns, I assured him of two things,” Hanna said. “First, he would be informed of our plan throughout the entirety of the project, and secondly, we were not done until he was satisfied.”

Hanna, along with a team consisting of Avista Real Estate Representative Claude Kahler, Electric Inspector Joe Vigliotta, Mountain Power Line Foreman Rick Larson, and Asplundh Tree Foreman Steve Guiterez and Work Planner Zeb Rosenthal worked with the customer and created an alternative plan.

According to Jim Price, "The men devoted a great deal of time and attention to seeing that care of our property was an important part of the project ... all of the workers were pleasant, considerate and informative."

Workers dug the hole for the pole by hand and with a jackhammer, instead of using an excavator as they normally would. Aside from a small cart and crane to transport and place the pole, no other trucks or mechanical equipment entered the property.

From beginning to end, work caused minimal disruption and no damage to the bungalow or the customer's garden.

In addition, Hanna and the customer agreed that the best use of the customer’s pine tree that was removed during the project was to donate it as firewood to SNAP. Hanna arranged for four supervised inmates from Geiger Correctional Facility to pick up and deliver the firewood to SNAP. He even surprised the inmates with doughnuts to say “thank you.”

The work done is a great example of how Avista employees work with customers, other businesses and the community to improve the quality of life and energy.

Have you had a similar experience?
Let us help share the story. Email us to share your story.
About Avista’s Smart Circuits project
Avista’s Smart Circuits project is all about upgrading electric facilities in the Spokane area to support the technologies of today and tomorrow. Ultimately, this work will result in greater energy efficiency in our delivery of energy. Improving our equipment with smarter technology delays the need for new generation facilities, which is very costly to build. Upgrading our electric facilities with smarter technology also makes future integration of renewable generation resources possible. To learn more about our smart grid projects, visit www.avistautilities.com, keyword: smart grid.
 
Published: 2/2/2012  11:01 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jan 18 , 2012
H95
 
Video by Dan Kolbet
 
If you’ve traveled along Highway 95 in North Idaho by Silverwood recently, you may have seen Avista natural gas crews working alongside 6 miles of the busy highway. The Idaho Department of Transportation is reconstructing a portion of Highway 95 from approximately Chilco to Athol. 

Avista has to move its existing pipeline and is expanding the capacity of the pipeline from 3 to 6 inches. Expanded capacity helps serve existing customer needs and helps prepare infrastructure for the future. The estimated cost for this project is around $1.4 million. Part of Avista's requests for customer rate adjustments typically includes infrastructure work like this project.
 
Check out the video which was shot in early January 2012. Learn more about the project and view pictures here.

 
Published: 1/18/2012  8:19 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jan 06 , 2012
Natural gas slideshow

Crews brave the cold to bring reliable service to you in $1.4 million project

Post by Dan Kolbet
 
If you’ve traveled along Highway 95 in North Idaho by Silverwood recently, you may have seen Avista natural gas crews working alongside the busy highway. We wanted to let you know what they are up to. Our crews are relocating and increasing capacity for six miles of natural gas pipeline to accommodate a newly constructed highway.

The Idaho Department of Transportation is reconstructing a portion of Highway 95 from approximately Chilco to Athol.  The highway will expand from two to four lanes, which is great for safety and traffic, but means Avista’s existing 3-inch natural gas pipeline needs to move to a new right-of-way on the east side of the road.

Avista is expanding the capacity of the pipeline from 3 to 6 inches too. Expanded capacity helps serve existing customer needs and helps prepare our infrastructure for the future. The estimated cost for this project is around $1.4 million. Part of our requests for customer rate adjustments typically includes infrastructure work like this project.

You can see from the slideshow of pictures that the crews are clearing a pathway, laying down 40-foot lengths of yellow plastic pipe, fusing them together and then burying the pipeline with sandy soil. The sandy soil protects the pipeline from being touched rocks or hard objects that could put pressure on the new pipeline. After the line is in place it will be pressure tested before being brought into service.

The project started in mid-December and should be completed by mid-March. One of the biggest hurdles the crews had to overcome recently was frost. At times crews had to dig through 12 to 24 inches of frozen ground to make a trench that goes much deeper. Typically large projects like this aren’t completed during winter months, but Avista and other utilities agreed to do the work now to accommodate the Idaho Department of Transportation’s aggressive schedule. Luckily snow hasn’t been an issue yet, but if it does, our crews will work through that too.

Checkout other Avista Blog post about Natural Gas.
Published: 1/6/2012  11:31 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Dec 09 , 2011
Your rates dollars at work: pipeline reinforces service to Clarkston area

Post by Dan Kolbet

Clarkston pipeline work.
Since mid-July Avista contract crews have been working on a 2.8-mile natural gas line extension in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley that will help reinforce gas service to Avista customers in the Clarkston area.

The new six-inch steel high pressure natural gas line was installed on the Clarkston, Wash., side of the Snake River and is fed through an existing line from Lewiston, Idaho. In early December the line underwent a successful pressure test and is now in service, providing homes and businesses with winter heat.

There a still a few asphalt patches that will be spruced up along the project corridor, but that should be wrapped up shortly.

Employees and contractors reported that customers in the area have been wonderful to work with and talk to about the project.

An unexpected benefit of the project to customers and the public came in the form of safety lighting on the Greenbelt Trail, a popular recreation area, where the new line was installed. In order to install the new pipeline, Avista needed to access land managed by the Army Corp of Engineers. As in-kind consideration in lieu of fees for conducting this project, Avista will install 46 lights along the trail from Chestnut Beach to Swallows Boat Ramp parking lot, at an approximate cost of $71,500. The new lights, to be installed later this year, will improve the safety of visitors who use the Greenbelt Trail.

Roughly 4,000 feet of conduit has already been installed for the lighting project that is expected to be complete around March 2012, but is dependent on winter.

This new natural gas pipeline is a great example of where your rates dollars go – providing you safe, reliable gas service.
Published: 12/9/2011  12:13 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Oct 27 , 2011
Noxon pics
 
Post by Brandi Smith
 
What weighs 120 tons and has been generating clean and reliable hydropower for 52 years? A turbine runner at Noxon Rapids Dam that has been in service since the dam’s opening in 1959.

On October 19, the project reached a milestone. The last turbine to be upgraded at Noxon Rapids Dam was removed from service. The removal of the turbine is part of a $45 million project to upgrade four original generating units with newer, more efficient technology. The project started in July 2008 and is on schedule to be finished by spring 2012.

The upgraded units are expected to increase the total generating capacity of the dam by an estimated 30 megawatts. The upgrades enhance Avista’s ability to serve our customers because it lets us generate more power using the same amount of water, rather than securing it somewhere else. The new turbines also boast features such as smooth edges and corners and a stainless steel body that weighs just 65 tons. The incremental energy they produce is already helping Avista meet its Washington State renewable portfolio standards as well.

Removing an old turbine isn’t easy business. They are cast steel beasts weighing approximately 120 tons. The prep work alone takes hundreds of hours of skilled labor and craftsmanship to get the turbine ready for retirement. Once the big day comes, a large crane is used to lift it out of the penstock. It’s a slow and careful process that takes a full day to complete, which makes Noxon Rapids’ stellar safety record of 20 years and counting for zero lost-time accidents even more impressive.

The final new replacement turbine is expected to be in service by spring 2012. As for the old turbine, we hope to move it to the dam’s public viewing area as an added attraction to an already beautiful and scenic park.
Published: 10/27/2011  3:47 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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