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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington regulators schedule October hearing on proposed Avista sale

SR (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Avista Corp.’s proposed sale to a Canadian utility will get another round of scrutiny from Washington regulators this fall.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission has scheduled an Oct. 23 technical hearing on the proposed $5.3 billion sale to Hydro One Ltd. of Toronto. The hearing will give the three UTC commissioners the opportunity to ask questions of Avista and Hydro One officials after a political shakeup last month led to the retirement of Hydro One’s chief executive and the resignation of its entire board, said Kate Griffith, a UTC spokeswoman.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who took office June 29, campaigned on a platform to replace Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt and the utility’s board of directors. He called Schmidt the “$6 million man” during his campaign, channeling customers’ anger over high electric bills amid what Ford said was excessive executive pay.

The province of Ontario is Hydro One’s largest shareholder, with a 47 percent stake in the utility, and the province has the ability to remove the board of directors. A new board is expected to be seated by mid-August.

Both Avista and Hydro One officials say they remain committed to the sale. Washington regulators face a Dec. 14 deadline for deciding whether the sale is in the best interests of Avista’s ratepayers.

During the October hearing in Olympia, Washington commissioners also will hear from parties to a proposed settlement for the sale, Griffith said. The settlement outlined how Avista would operate after the sale, including commitments for keeping the company’s Spokane headquarters, rate credits for customers and a continued role in regional economic development efforts and charitable giving.

Wall Street analysts tracking the sale have indicated that state regulators may look for additional guarantees after the Hydro One shakeup to protect Avista customers from political volatility in Ontario. For the sale to go through, regulators in the five states where Avista operates must endorse it. Decisions are pending in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

The Washington commission has received 348 public comments on Avista’s proposed sale, with 265 opposed, 13 in favor, and 70 undecided.