April 22--Got some thoughts on Avista's proposed sale to a Canadian company? Monday is your chance to weigh in.
A public hearing on Avista Corp.'s $5.3 billion sale to Hydro One Ltd., of Toronto, takes place Monday afternoon in the Spokane Valley City Council chambers. On Tuesday, a second hearing is scheduled in Colville.
Members of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will be at the hearings. For the transaction to go through, the three-member commission must determine the sale is in the best interest of Avista's ratepayers.
Avista -- formerly known as Washington Water Power -- was founded 128 years ago, harnessing the power of the Spokane River to provide electricity for a growing Western town. After the sale, Avista would operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hydro One.
Hydro One has agreed to keep Avista's headquarters in Spokane, retain its workforce and continue charitable contributions and its role in the region's economic development efforts. As a small, investor-owned utility, Avista officials say being part of a larger corporation would benefit ratepayers.
So far, Avista customers who have submitted written comments are largely skeptical: They've expressed concerns about foreign ownership of the local utility and have asked the commission not to approve the sale.
The state Attorney General's office evaluated risks to Avista ratepayers associated with the sale. In recent testimony, the AG's office said a settlement proposed last month mitigates those risks and ensures that Avista customers would benefit from the sale.
The proposed settlement would give rate credits to Avista customers. It also makes commitments to renewable energy and low-income assistance programs, and protects local ratepayers in the event of future financial problems at Hydro One.
Under the settlement, Avista customers would get credits on their bills for five years. In Washington, the rate credits are about $31.7 million over the five-year period. For a typical electric and natural gas customer, the savings would be about $1.27 per month.
(In Idaho, where a similar settlement is pending, the rate credits would be $15.8 million over five years, worth about $1.38 per month to a typical electric and gas customer.)
The proposed settlement also requires keeping Avista's operations "as separate as possible" from Hydro One after the sale, said Chris McGuire, assistant director of energy regulation for the Utilities and Transportation Commission.
"Hydro One can't lean on Avista to prop up its business," he said. "We have an obligation to ensure that Avista remains financially healthy and safe so it can provide safe and reliable service."
If Hydro One filed for bankruptcy or had other financial setbacks, "we want to ensure Avista and its ratepayers are held completely harmless," McGuire said.
As part of those protections, Hydro One shareholders can't receive dividends from Avista's operations unless Avista is in good financial health, he said.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is expected to vote on the sale by mid-August. Public utility commissions in other states where Avista operates must also weigh in.
Avista and Hydro One expect the sale to be final later in the year.
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