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In the 1990s Gen. Schwarzkopf sat on the Washington Water Power board

As just a little footnote to the obituary of former U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, we'll mention that the guy served for more than three years on the board of Washington Water Power, now Avista.

In 1997 SR business writer Bert Caldwell took note of Mr. Schwarzkopf's departure from the utility's board:

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf will step down from the Washington Water Power Co. board of directors in May after four years of service. With the consent of shareholders, he will be replaced by John Kelly, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Alaska Air Group and Alaska Airlines.

The changes are the first since Schwarzkopf joined the Spokane utility's board in 1993. The company said schedule demands dictated the decision by Schwarzkopf, who has accepted positions on several other corporate and nonprofit boards since he retired from the U.S. Army after leading allied forces in the Gulf War.

Taking the board position was an obvious career move for the general at a time when he could partay his public fame into some sort of corporate credential.

One has to believe WWP brought Schwarzkopf onto the board not so much because of his executive insights.

Likely, it was WWP's attempt to add a little glitz to its board.

No buyout? Avista insists its cost-cutting is a ‘voluntary severance program’

Sometime next month, workers at Avista Utilities have a choice to make. The company is looking to help incentivize workers to leave the utility, in order to cut something like $14 million from next year's operating budget.

Our first story on this offer is here.

But let's be a little more precise. The folks at Avista really really don't like us using the term "buyout."

When we inquired how many employees have indicated an interest, we were told the word buyout is not accurate. It is instead a Voluntary Severance Program.

Further, with the deadline for volunteers being Dec. 14, Avista has no plans to reveal how many workers take the buyout. Even though it's a publicly traded company, the rules don't require this sort of matter to be revealed in SEC documents or filings.

Avista has a total of roughly 1,500 workers. The offer has not been presented to about 600 union workers, said Avista spokesman Dan Kolbet.

Some good news if you rely on gas heating from Avista

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) on Thursday approved requests by the state’s four investor-owned natural gas companies, including Avista Utilities, to reduce heating rates for customers beginning Nov. 1. 

Natural gas companies in Washington are required to adjust rates periodically to reflect changes in wholesale prices. More than half to about two-thirds of a customer’s monthly bill is attributable to the cost of natural gas on which the company is not allowed to earn a profit.

The remaining 33 to 45 percent of the monthly bill covers the cost of delivering the natural gas. 

Avista’s typical Eastern Washington residential customer using 68 therms will see a drop of 4.3 percent, or $2.58 a month, for a revised bill of $58.18. 

The average residential customer of southwest Washington’s Northwest Natural Gas Co. (NWNG) using 55 therms will see a savings of about 7.7 percent, or $4.82 a month. 

All four utilities may see adjustments to the new rates. UTC staff will review wholesale costs and purchasing and hedging practices of the four firms to insure they are appropriate in current market conditions.   

The commission decision on Avista’s natural gas rate request is separate from the general rate case filed by the company in April. The UTC is expected to make a final decision in that proceeding next March. 

The utilities distribute natural gas to customers but do not produce their own fuel. About half of Washington’s natural gas supplies come from the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia and the other half from Rocky Mountain production sites such as Wyoming. 

Avista serves more than 149,000 natural gas customers, primarily in Eastern Washington.

Solar incentives and Washington state: a great website for more reading

It was a challenge putting together today's news story, on page A1, about the incentives offered to businesses or homeowners installing solar energy panels. A challenge because there's a good deal of variety and complexity among the federal and state incentives.

One very helpful website for those interested in all those incentives and options is www.dsireusa.org. The name stands for Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. Good site.

Some numbers that came from the research:

  •    The state of Washington has 3,020 approved solar systems at present, which covers both homes, community projects and businesses. The state's incentives include rebates for amount of solar energy produced per year, plus a waiver on purchases of equipment if the goods are made in this state.
  •    Avista Utilities has signed interconnect contracts with 121 customers in Eastern Washington, and 29 in its Idaho service area.  Of the 121, 98 are residential, 23 are business, according to spokesman Dan Kolbet.

Avista utilities/condom names

If you go to the power company's website, there's a "Your safety" heading. You can click on it and get a list. Which of the following subheads would make the best name for a condom?

A) Electric safety. B) Natural gas safety. C) Call before you dig. D) Power outages. E) Safety around dams. F) Fire safety. G) Vegetation management. H) Kid central. I) Meter testing.

Itron partners with northeast U.S. utility to study advanced smart grid options

On Wednesday, as Itron reported mixed earnings, the Liberty Lake utility technology maker and service provider also announced it's taking part in an East Coast smart grid demonstration project.

Itron and National Grid, a northeast U.S. utitlity, announced they will be partners on a project to build and evaluate advanced smart grid systems in Massachusetts.

Here's where the geeky tech stuff shows up in the story: the two firms will field-test the multi-application capabilities of the new Itron-Cisco IPv6 based smart grid solution, including advanced metering, home area networking (HAN) and distribution automation (DA). That "stuff" is the typical and more or less standard set of tools the smart grid depends on.

OK, then, what's the key news here?  The press report says the system will use Cisco technology that allows a utility to exchange information with its residential and business customers without requiring them to all use just one proprietary set of equipment or applications.

As designed, that makes the smart grid more open-standards based, sort of like the way the Web is designed.

It's a big deal because this allows an electric utility do have a grid system across a diverse set of customers, including large industrial customers, or when dealing with a dispersed group of home customers, some of whom may be using different home metering products than others across the utility map are using.

If you really want all the other details, here's the official Itron release.

Itron and Cisco not long ago announced they had a similar deal for BC Hydro, one of Canada's largest electric utilities. Here's a summary of the project being done in British Columbia.

Wire theft knocks out power; tips sought

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for information that led to the arrest of those responsible for a wire theft at an Avista substation that left thousands without power.

The thief or thieves cut cooper ground wires and stole portions, resulting in about $10,000 in damage.

The theft occurred about 2 a.m. Jan. 9 at the substation at 7182 N. Huetter Road. A ground wire burnt through because of short circuiting, which crews said likely scared the thief or thieves away.

The culprits "could easily have been electrocuted," Avista crews told sheriff's deputies, according to a report.
Metal thefts cost local businesses thousands of dollars and are common because drug addicts can sell the stolen material for considerable amounts of money.

A band of alleged thieves in Spokane County even obtained legal business licenses to aid in their criminal enterprise. Read more here.

Anyone with information on the wire theft in Kootenai County is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.

Thieves target Avista power lines

Here's a news release from Sgt. Dave Reagan:

Overhead lines that return unused power to Avista have been targeted by metal thieves since late August, a company employee reported Monday.

Since Aug. 22, a suspect has stolen more than one and a half miles of #6 copper for a loss exceeding $18,000.  The company has been replacing the stolen copper lines with aluminum wire which is less expensive.

The employee said the return cable is the lower of the two lines on the power poles and that the suspect pulls the line down and then cuts it closest to the pole.   

The thefts are risky business. Although the line is usually not powered, it can be at any time and the thief would have no way of knowing if it is charged or not.

The most recent theft occurred Monday in the 20600 block of North Hazard Road.  Crews had just replaced the line at midnight and it was discovered missing again at 6 a.m.

Anyone with information regarding these thefts is encouraged to call Crime Check at 456-2233.

Coming Thursday

The Valley Voice will be full of news you can use on Thursday. Reporter John Craig will have a story on the old Great Northern Railroad right of way that is suddenly popular. Spokane Valley and Millwood want to use it as a trail. Avista Utilities wants to put in electrical transmission lines. And Spokane County wants to lay pipe under it for treated wastewater.

Reporter Lisa Leinberger is continuing her tour of Spokane Valley area SCOPE stations. This week she checked in with Trentwood SCOPE. Since there was no Spokane Valley City Council meeting this week, I took the opportunity to head out to Newman Lake to attend a special meeting of the Newman Lake Fire District. Fire commissioners have been discussing for months (well, years actually) plans to build a new Station 1. The meeting was called to present the public with three different funding options and get input on which plan people preferred.

In Liberty Lake there were two arrests for vehicle prowling and it wasn't anyone known to be a repeat offender for that crime in Liberty Lake.

Downtown Spokane offers a twin bill for its annual meeting next week

Downtown Spokane is offering a double-barrelled program for its annual meeting, which starts at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 17.
It will be at the Spokane Convention Center exhibition hall.
Renowned speaker and consultant Roger Brooks, founder and CEO of Destination Development International, will talk about how Spokane can showcase its distinctive urban features, beyond the now-obvious "Near Nature, Near Perfect" marketing approach.
The second topic will cover how Avista Utilities and the City of Spokane have begun collaborating on efforts to build a energy future that includes sustained cost savings, respect for the environment and enhanced quality of life, according to a program note.
To register, go to DowntownSpokane.net. Registration is $30 in advance before Feb. 10, $35 at the door.

The guilty party: One power pole takes out networks across Spokane Valley, N. Idaho

View Larger Map The company that operates a large network of fiber-optic cable for Spokane and North Idaho business customers said it could be midnight on Tuesday before their Internet service returns.

Shelly Mills, a spokesperson for the Spokane office of Zayo Enterprises, said it might be that long, following a car crash early Tuesday that knocked over a utility pole in northeast Spokane County.

That pole, in the accompanying Google StreetView image, is at the intersection of Starr Road and Wellesley.

It's not clear how many businesses use the fiber that is hung on that pole.

The black lines on the pole are fiber-optic lines. The other mess of wires are for phone and electric power.

The white conduit on the left of the pole brings fiber down into the buried vault on the ground.

Zayo provides both "lit" and dark fiber for customers.

Zayo spokesman Glenn Russo, based in Colorado, said fiber carriers choose to either use poles or bury lines under ground. “You end up picking your poison,” he said. Aerial lines are more frequently broken than buried lines. “But they’re also much easier to fix, by nature of being in the open,” he said.

Another story, to be posted later at spokesman.com, will add information on the specific companies impacted.

Power out on South Hill

Power is out on a portion of the South Hill this afternoon as Avista Utilities crews replace a pole at 9th Ave. and Monroe St. destroyed in a motor vehicle accident at about 10 a.m.

A spokeswoman said service should be restored to all customers by 4:30 p.m.

At 1:30 p.m. the outages had been limited to an area between 8th Ave. and 11th Ave. between Monroe and West Cliff Avenue.

About 222 customers were still without service, down from more than 400 initially.

Reward offered for tips on Avista theft

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for tips that solve a burglary in which two Spokane-area companies lost more than $5000 in copper wire and power tools.

The crime is believed to have occurred between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Wednesday at an Avista Utilities storage site at 2400 N. Dollar Road in Spokane Valley.

Employees believe the thief or thieves cut a padlock from a gate and backed a vehicle into the lot, then removed more than $3,000 in items from five Avista work trucks using a wheelbarrow.

Bouten Construction, which also stored items at the site, lost several power tools valued at about $2,000, including two Skil circular saws, two roto hammers and two cordless battery charges.

Anyone with information on is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or submit tips online.

$5k in tools, copper wire stolen at Avista

Someone stole more than $5,000 worth of tools and copper wire from an Avista Utilities storage site in Spokane Valley early Wednesday.

Employees at 2400 N. Dollar Road believe the thief or thieves cut a padlock from a gate and backed a vehicle into the lot, then removed more than $3,000 in items from five Avista work trucks using a wheelbarrow.

Bouten Construction, which also stored items at the site, lost several power tools valued at about $2,000, including two Skil circular saws,  two roto hammers and two cordless battery charges.

Based on the amount of snow accumulated in footprints, police believe the break-in likely occurred sometime between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Spokane Valley Police Department.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Tips sought on Avista copper caper

Thieves stole more than $1,000 worth of copper cable from an Avista substation in north Spokane this week.

Police are looking for tips on whoever cut the padlock at 8307 N. Regal and stole the coils of copper, which were discovered missing about 6:30 .am. Wednesday.

A copper ground cable embedded in the ground had been pulled out and stolen as well, according to the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.

“Three different types of Shawflex-brand cable were stolen: a 12-conductor #9 gauge, a seven-conductor #9 gauge and a four-conductor #9 gauge,” according to a news release. “In all, about 25 30-feet-long lengths of cable were stolen.”

Thieves often steal copper to sell to recycling firms.

Anyone with information on the burglary is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.

Avista Dan Wants You @ City Park

Avista Dan will be interviewing Avista customers (who happen to be milling about) at Coeur d’Alene City Park at 11 o’clock Wednesday morning for the utility’s Energy on the Street. E-mails Dan: “Our goal for this project is to get questions from Avista customers on camera. We’ll then have Avista employees provide answers and place both the Q and A on our website for everyone to see on video. The idea is that many customers have the same questions and we want to get everyone in the know through real interactions.” Dan writes more about the Energy on the Street project on the Avista blog here. (SR photo by Dan Pelle, of Dan Kolbet with a mural of Washington Water Power meter readers pictured in 1925.)

DFO: How about some of you Berry Pickers heading down to City Park tomorrow morning to give Avista Dan a fine Huckleberries howdy-do?

Question: What question would you like to ask Avista?

Pot suspect with ailing brother granted bond

A Canadian truck driver arrested with 300 pounds of marijuana bound for an Avista plant in Kettle Falls will be allowed to leave jail before trial, a U.S. magistrate ruled Friday. 

Matthew G. Tutt, 31, has an older brother who has been diagnosed with cancer and given 18 months to live, said his public defender, Amy Rubin.

Tutt’s mother and father traveled to Spokane from Vancouver Island, B.C, from the hearing, which U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno said weighed heavily on her decision to release hm from custody.

Tutt was driving a load of wood chips for Middleton Trucking in Maple Ridge, B.C., when border agents found marijuana in five wooden crates hidden inside the load at the Kettle Falls plant.

He pleaded not guilty Friday to a grand jury indictment charging him with possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and importation of marijuana. Both charges carry five to 40 years in prison.

An assistant U.S Attorney requested bond be set to equal the value of the fine B.C marijuana Tutt is alleged to have imported into the country - she estimated $400,000 - but Imbrogno granted a bond of $50,000 - $25,000 cash and $25,000 through a U.S. bond company.

Tutt’s parents will be required to pay a $100,000 appearance bond if he doesn’t show up for court.

Tutt will live in North Vancouver and report monthly to a federal office in Blaine, Wash. He’s allowed only to Blaine and to Alberta to visit his ailing brother.

Avista dispute leads to police response

A Coeur d’Alene man who owns a historic bed and breakfast was taken into custody by police Wednesday after threatening Avista Corp. employees over the phone when a serviceman delivered a power shut-off notice.

It’s an extreme example, but by no means unique, an Avista spokesman said: So many similar incidents have occurred in the past month that the Spokane utility is considering additional security measures for its service people in the field.

Read the rest of Alison Boggs’ story here.

Door-to-door sales prompt police reports

Door-to-door sales representatives from an Idaho company are prompting a flurry of calls to Crime Check from concerned Spokane Valley residents.

Salesmen with Rocky Mountain Insulation in Pocatello are selling insulation they say “may” qualify homeowners for an Avista Utilities or federal tax rebate, according to the Spokane Valley Police Department.

The men ask homeowners if they can come inside to check the home’s insulation and sometimes imply they are with Avista, police said. Avista officials say the men are not associated with the company.

A phone number listed for Rocky Mountain Insulation has been disconnected. Police urge residents to use caution when dealing with strangers at the door.

“Asking for company identification is a good start,” Sgt. Dave Reagan said in a news release. “Prior to allowing any sales person inside your home, conceal purses, wallets, checkbooks and other easy-to-steal items of value. Escort the person through your home and watch for suspicious activity.”

Anyone who thinks they may have been a victim of a crime is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233.