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Windstorm damages add up for Avista

Avista’s electric grid took a $23 million hit during last November’s windstorm, when gale-force winds toppled power poles, took out transformers and damaged substations.

The Spokane-based utility also paid out $2.9 million in employee overtime and wages to contract crews who worked around the clock to restore power during the outage, which lasted a week or more for some Inland Northwest customers.

Avista reported the windstorm costs during the release of the company’s 2015 earnings Wednesday.

Last year was still a profitable one for the utility, which serves electric and natural gas customers in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska.

Avista reported net income of $123.2 million, or $1.97 per share, on sales of $1.5 billion in 2015. That’s a drop from Avista’s 2014 net income of $192 million, or $3.10 per share, which included profits from the sale of Ecova, an energy-management subsidiary.

In terms of windstorm expenses, only the $2.9 million in labor costs counted against the company’s 2015 earnings, said Jessie Wuerst, an Avista spokeswoman. The $23 million in damage to the electric distribution system was paid out of the utility’s capital budget.

“Weather played a significant role in our operations last year,” Scott Morris, Avista’s chairman and chief executive, said during a conference call with analysts.

Restoring power after the Nov. 17 windstorm was a “monumental task that took thousands of hours” and was accomplished without any workers getting injured, Morris said.

Avista expects to recover the $23 million in windstorm-related capital expenses over a period of years, based on the depreciation costs of the equipment. A proposed electric rate increase for 2017, which was announced Friday, includes about $2 million for windstorm expenses.

Avista has proposed rate increases for 2017 and 2018. If approved by state regulators, the two rate hikes would add about $10 per month to a typical household’s combined electric and gas bill over an 18-month period.

This story was updated to correct the reason for the drop in Avista’s 2015 earnings, which was previously misstated by a company spokeswoman.


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