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Business in brief: Avista lowers gas outlook

Avista Corp. will increase its customer base for natural gas by 2.4 percent annually over the next 20 years, down slightly from earlier projections, company officials said.

Rising prices for natural gas will keep some people from converting to gas furnaces, from oil or wood heat, said Randy Barcus, Avista’s chief economist. He also predicted that more people will be living in apartments in the future, which tend to have electric heat because it’s cheaper for developers to install.

Barcus had previously projected a 2.7 percent annual growth rate in Avista’s natural gas customer base.

Barcus’ predictions are part of a 20-year power plan that the Spokane-based utility submits to state regulators every other year. The plans project population and business growth and future energy needs.

Avista serves 304,600 natural gas customers in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

– Becky Kramer


Workers sue fruit company

Nine farmworkers recruited from Mexico last year by a Selah fruit company have filed suit in federal court, claiming the company failed to disclose tougher work requirements in their employment contract, which lowered their wages below federal minimums.

Northwest Justice Project of Yakima, a nonprofit legal-aid group, and a Seattle law firm filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Yakima against Zirkle Fruit Co. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of workers hired under the federal H-2A program, which allows agricultural employers to hire temporary foreign workers if they can show a shortage of U.S. workers.

Under the program, employers must a pay a wage determined for each state by the U.S. Department of Labor. Last year, that rate for Washington was $9.77 an hour, up from the 2006 wage of $9.01. If the employer uses a piece rate, those rates are to be in line with the “normal” productivity requirements of a region.

To offset that 76-cent increase in the 2007 wage, the lawsuit claims Zirkle Fruit boosted the productivity requirement.

– Associated Press


Hotel plan may displace buses

A plan has been filed for a 51-story, 1,200-room hotel in Seattle that would displace the Greyhound bus station.

The design review is under way for the hotel, which would have convention space, plus retail and restaurants at street level.

Greyhound spokesman Dustin Clark told KOMO Radio the bus terminal might move to its maintenance facility, just a few blocks away.

Clark says Greyhound will maintain its bus service in Seattle.

– Associated Press