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Avista reports salary, bonus figures

Thu., Feb. 24, 2011, 8 a.m.

CEO made $3.25 million including bigger bonus

Avista Corp. Chairman and CEO Scott Morris earned $3.25 million in total compensation last year, the utility reported Wednesday.

Morris’ salary was unchanged from 2009, but a bigger bonus and an increase in the value of his pension plan pushed his total compensation up from $3 million two years ago.

Compensation for the Spokane-based utility’s top five executives was outlined in a preliminary proxy statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Morris’ compensation package has several parts, said Jessie Wuerst, an Avista spokeswoman. He earned a $630,001 base salary; a $627,669 bonus based on Avista’s performance last year; and $47,408 in other pay, including company matches for his 401(k) contributions.

Other items listed in Morris’ pay package aren’t direct cash payments, Wuerst said. The total includes a $906,969 net increase in the value of his pension plan at retirement and stock awards valued at $1 million under accounting rules.

The stock-awards figure represents the value of Avista shares that Morris has the potential to earn over three years, Wuerst said.

Avista, which employs 1,500 people, compares its executive salaries to pay at other shareholder-owned utilities around the region. Morris, 53, has held Avista’s top executive job since January 2008.

While Morris’ base salary didn’t go up in 2010, four Avista vice presidents each got salary raises averaging 3.2 percent.

Wuerst said those vice presidents didn’t get a raise in 2009. A review by a consultant indicated that their pay lagged behind their peers at other utilities, she said.

Avista’s board of directors sets executive pay guidelines, including criteria for stock awards and cash incentives. Ratepayers, through their utility bills, pay for the majority of Morris’ and other executives’ base salaries and benefits. Wuerst said that about 18 cents of an average utility bill goes toward the salaries of Avista’s 13 highest paid executives.

Stockholders also contribute to executive pay. Stock awards are paid from Avista’s shareholder equity, which is the sum of its stock value and retained earnings. Wuerst said that performance bonuses are paid from company savings generated by efficient operations. Avista executives get the bonuses when the company meets certain benchmarks, including targets for the length of time needed to restore power after outages and overall customer satisfaction.

At Avista’s annual meeting on May 12, shareholders will vote on whether they want to review executive compensation packages before the packages become final. If shareholders approve the measure, they would weigh in through an advisory vote, but Avista’s board would continue to make the final decisions on executive pay.

Scott Morris (chairman, CEO)$630,001$3,245,967
Mark Thies (senior VP) $323,077$854,760
Dennis Vermillion (senior VP)$298,078$966,337
Marian Durkin (senior VP) $281,463$830,451
Karen Feltes (senior VP) $246,461$864,018
Source: Avista preliminary proxy

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