Business in brief: Wright reappointed to BPA

The Bonneville Power Administration’s top official will keep his politically appointed job, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Thursday.

Steve Wright is BPA’s second-longest tenured CEO and administrator, taking office on the eve of the 2000-01 West Coast energy crisis. He was named to the post in January 2002 but had served as acting administrator since November 2000.

“Steve has done an outstanding job leading BPA through challenging times,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who praised the reappointment, along with BPA’s work in integrating renewable energy from wind turbines into the region’s electrical grid.

BPA markets the electricity from federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries, and a nuclear plant at Hanford.

Becky Kramer

Aetna using Next IT ‘aide’

Insurance provider Aetna is using online virtual-assistant technology developed in Spokane on its secure member website.

Developed by Spokane tech company Next IT, the virtual assistant “Ann” replies to questions with on-screen text answers and with audio responses in a woman’s voice.

It has been in use since January at the insurance giant’s Aetna Navigator portal. That site has more than 11 million registered users.

Since being launched, the Ann assistant has cut phone help requests by 29 percent, said Sherry Sanderford, a spokesperson at Aetna’s headquarters in Hartford, Conn.

The company also said Ann generates roughly 2,500 chat sessions per day. For now the tech tool helps members log on or register at the benefit information site. Ann will gain additional features and a larger role in member assistance over time, said Sanderford.

Tom Sowa

Maytag recalling dishwashers

WASHINGTON – Whirlpool Corp.’s Maytag unit is recalling about 1.7 million dishwashers because of a fire hazard.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which announced the recall Thursday, says the company, part of Whirlpool Corp., has received 12 reports of electrical failures in the dishwasher heating element that led to fires and damage. One kitchen fire caused extensive damage, the agency said. No injuries have been reported.

The recall includes Maytag, Amana, Jenn-Air, Admiral, Magic Chef, Performa by Maytag and Crosley brand dishwashers with plastic tubs. The recalled dishwashers were made with black, bisque, white, silver and stainless steel front panels and sold at department and appliance stores nationwide from February 2006 through April 2010. They cost between $250 and $900.


•J.P. Morgan Securities Ltd. has been fined a record $49 million for mishandling clients’ funds, the largest penalty ever handed out by Britain’s financial services watchdog.

•Two credit ratings agencies have downgraded BP, noting the extreme financial risks tied to the ongoing Gulf oil spill. Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service said further downgrades are possible.

•Airline carriers improved their overall on-time performance in April. The 18 airlines that report statistics to the Transportation Department were on time 85.3 percent of the time in April, compared with a rate of 79.1 percent a year earlier and 80 percent in March.

•Nielsen, the television ratings and consumer research company, plans to raise up to $1.75 billion in an initial public offering.

•Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages ticked up from the lowest level of the year this week, rising to 4.79 percent from 4.78 percent last week.

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