Avista Utilities Successfully Replaces Legacy Customer System With Oracle Utility Solution

REDWOOD SHORES, CA–Transitioning from a 20-year-old, homegrown customer information system to one that is more modern and comprehensive allows utilities to improve customer service, enhance financial performance, and adapt to a changing industry. Making this upgrade is no small endeavor, but Avista Utilities — which provides energy services and electricity to 362,000 customers and natural gas to 323,000 customers in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon — successfully made the transition by implementing Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing.

Avista’s successful launch of Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing, which included a well-planned training schedule, allowed customer service representatives to maintain grade-of-service targets as well as sustain their overall customer satisfaction rating during the 2015 go live. Avista’s representatives feel confident navigating within the Oracle Utilities system to find consumer account information and answer questions.

“We knew we needed to create awareness throughout the company about the major project that would replace our legacy customer information system. To foster awareness for the work that would have an enterprisewide impact, employees named the technology replacement Project Compass, as it would help guide us forward,” said Vicki Weber, director of customer strategic projects, Avista. “We selected Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing because it is a utility-friendly system that supports Avista’s future, strengthens the customer experience, and increases operating efficiencies while providing new opportunities to build on our excellent customer service reputation.”

To ensure that Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing was the right technology for its business, Avista started by benchmarking the industry to identify what worked well for other similar organizations. Avista also identified training as one of its top goals so employees would understand and embrace the system and be able to successfully serve customers on day one.

Avista achieved this goal by using a blended program of web-based courses, classroom training, self-directed system practice, and planned activities. It also provided more than 27,000 hours of Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing training to more than 300 employees in customer service and other departments.

“Oracle Utilities Customer Care and Billing handles every aspect of the customer lifecycle — from service connection, meter reading, rating, billing, payments processing, and collections to field work,” said Rodger Smith, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Utilities. “This solution helped Avista upgrade its customer information system, ensuring that the utility can continue to deliver exceptional customer service with fully integrated systems.”

Last Chance: Register for our Webinar “Understanding The Northwest’s Primary Source of Natural Gas Supply”

The majority of the natural gas consumed in the Pacific Northwest comes from Alberta and British Columbia, a producing region referred to as the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB).

Very Limited space remains! Join the Northwest Gas Association for a free webinar tomorrow (Thursday, April 23) discussing the current scale of natural gas supply available in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) with our guest Brian Morse, Manager, Gas Supply for Spectra Energy in Calgary, Alberta.

The webinar will begin promptly at 12 pm (PDT) with a 45 minute presentation followed by 15 minutes of Q&A. Registrants will receive a link via email to directly access the webinar the morning of Thursday, April 23.

Space is limited to the first 90 registrants so RSVP today to ensure your place!

What:   Free NWGA Natural Gas Webinar

Where: Online Only-Link Will Be Emailed Directly to Registrants

When:  Thursday, April 23, 2015

Noon-1 pm (PDT)

To Register: wcsbwebinar.eventbrite.com

World’s First LNG Powered Container Ship Launches in San Diego

Tote Inc. launched the world’s first LNG powered container ship last weekend in San Diego. While this one won’t be plying the waters of the Puget Sound (it’s headed for Jacksonville, Florida), the launch bodes well for efforts in our region to expand the use of LNG in marine applications.

ANGA featured the ship in it’s “Think About It” ad campaign earlier this year, you can check out their video below:


CNG fleet arrives in Kamloops


They’re here! The Kamloops Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fuelled transit fleet has arrived. A total of 25 CNG buses will be introduced into service by the end of May as they clear inspection and are prepared for service.

Compared to diesel, the primary benefit of CNG buses are significantly quieter engines and simplified emission systems.

“It’s exciting to see Kamloops take advantage of B.C.’s abundant natural gas resources to use this available, affordable fuel in its fleet,” said Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and Kamloops South Thompson MLA. “By increasing the use of natural gas fleets around the province, we are making a transportation choice that will benefit us all for years to come.”

“The City’s strategy is to encourage alternative, sustainable methods of transportation and supportive infrastructure. These new buses will support this strategy by reducing  the emission of harmful pollutants into our air shed,” commented Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar.

“Cleaner burning fuel in our transit fleet means cleaner air for Kamloops’ residents,” said MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson Terry Lake. “I’m proud to say that Kamloops is the second region in the BC Transit network to adopt this technology and I’m confident  other communities will follow.”

A CNG fuelling station is near completion at the Kamloops Transit Centre. The cost of the fuelling station is estimated at $2.5 million.

The 25 CNG buses were purchased through New Flyer Industries in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The total cost of the buses is roughly $14.8 million. To help offset the initial costs associated with the purchase of the new CNG buses, FortisBC will provide funding of up to $577,500. This funding represents 70% of the cost differential of CNG buses over diesel counterparts.

“Natural gas is a cleaner-burning, lower-priced fuel that is abundant in B.C., and we are dedicated to working with municipalities and organizations like BC Transit to take advantage of new opportunities for this fuel source,” said Dave Bennett, Director, External Relations at FortisBC. “With these compressed natural gas buses on the road, BC Transit is putting ideas into action, bringing benefits to the environment and our gas customers.”

Kamloops is the second BC Transit community to adopt CNG technology; the Regional District of Nanaimo introduced its CNG fleet in 2014. The CNG buses in Nanaimo have proved very reliable, clocking an average of 53,000 kilometres each in their first year of service.

“We are pleased to partner with the City of Kamloops and FortisBC as BC Transit doubles the size of its CNG fleet,” said BC Transit President and CEO Manuel Achadinha. “This investment in new technology reinforces BC Transit’s strong commitment to sustainable transportation.”

Onboard Dynamics creates advisory board of automotive and energy industry veterans

Onboard Dynamics, Inc. (ObDI) has selected five automotive and energy industry veterans to form an advisory board that will guide the company’s commercialization of its new, natural gas vehicle refueling technologies. ObDI’s efforts to bring this innovative solution to market continue, and the expertise of this board will accelerate the company’s progress.

“We are pleased that these industry leaders have agreed to join our team in bringing this game- changing technology to market,” said Rita Hansen, CEO of Onboard Dynamics. “Their vast knowledge and experience will help our company realize the promise of powering many of our country’s vehicles with clean, abundant, domestic natural gas.”

Newly named board members are:

Jeff English, CEO of Grey Forest Utilities in San Antonio, has over 34 years of experience in natural gas distribution, operations, construction management, marketing/sales, and development of compressor stations for fleets. Mr. English has worked both domestically and internationally as a senior-level utility operations expert and is a past president of the American Public Gas Association (APGA).

Maurice Gunderson is a venture capitalist with a successful track record of building and creating new energy technology companies, including multiple internal combustion engine-based technology start- ups. Mr. Gunderson is the Managing Director of Earth Energy Ventures, Chairman of the Board for Contour Energy Systems, and founder of Nth Power venture capital firm. Prior to founding Nth Power, Mr. Gunderson had numerous previous business and investment interests, as well as a successful engineering career in the aerospace and energy sectors.

Dick Kauling is currently the Principle of KauliNG Solutions, a consulting company he founded following his recent retirement from a 33-year career at General Motors. During his time at GM, Dick actively worked on and supported global compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) applications in several roles. Notably, he was responsible for overall design and engineering execution for all North American CNG and LPG programs for vehicles sold between 1997 and 2006.

Dr. Patric Ouellette is currently the Chief Technology Officer of Westport Innovations. While earning his PhD at the University of British Columbia, Dr. Ouellette was part of the team that developed the advanced natural gas engine technologies that led to the foundation of Westport, which is a global leader in alternative fuel/low-emissions engine technologies for clean-burning fuels such as CNG. At Westport, Dr. Ouellette is both leading engineering teams in technology development and creating strategic partnerships globally with OEMs, manufacturers, and research institutes.

Ralph Rackham enjoyed a 25-year career in the VRA (Vehicle Refueling Appliance) Market, most recently as Executive Vice President of Operations and Engineering with FuelMaker Corporation of Toronto, Ontario (now BRC FuelMaker). Considered the technical “founder” of the VRA industry beginning in 1986, Ralph worked with Sulzer Corporation of Switzerland to develop a state of the art VRA. He helped spin off FuelMaker Corporation where he focused on the development and commercialization of VRAs and home refueling appliances (HRAs).

Key Takeaways From The WSU Emissions Study

Important news in the natural gas utility world last week with the release of a study published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, detailing a dramatic decrease in methane emissions from US local distribution systems when compared to prior estimates.

The study was led by the Northwest’s own Washington State University, with the support of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Conestoga-Rovers and Associates, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, and major natural gas utilities from across the US.

Check out the video below for a review of study’s justification and methodology:

Three key takeaways from the study (you can access the entire study by clicking here):

“The researchers found that upgrades in metering and regulating stations, changes in pipeline materials, better instruments for detecting pipeline leaks as well as regulatory changes have led to methane emissions that are from 36% to 70% lower than current Environmental Protection Agency estimates when the data gathered for this study is combined with current pipeline miles and the numbers of facilities.”

  • When returning to sites identified as large methane emitters in a study performed by the Gas Research Institute (GRI) in 1992, the researchers found significant emissions reductions in facilities that had been upgraded or replaced with newer equipment:

“To understand the large reductions found in this work relative to the GRI/EPA results, we identified nine facilities from among the larger emitting sites measured during the GRI/ EPA 1992 program to resample with our high-flow and tracer- ratio techniques. These results show substantial reductions in emissions from each individual station (factors of 2 to 50) from 1992 to the present, with one exception. In two cases, the local operator indicated that significant equipment changes had occurred at the site; while at a third site, the local operator indicated that there had been no equipment upgrades at the site in the past 20 years. This particular site was the only site without a significant reduction in emissions.”

  • While emissions nationwide were lower than prior estimates, utilities located in the Western US were responsible for emissions rates even lower than the national average:

“We also examined how emissions from pipeline leaks varied on a regional basis in the U.S. due to differences in pipeline type and miles by region (see SI Section S4.3; there was no statistical difference in EFs by region). The eastern region accounts for 34% of the total U.S. CH4 from pipeline leaks, while the western region contributes less than 20% (Figure 1). In the eastern region, emissions are dominated by leaks from cast iron and unprotected steel characteristic of older systems. As such, leaks from cast iron and unprotected steel pipe account for 70% of the eastern emissions and almost half of total U.S. emissions. In the western region, systems are newer with more miles of plastic and protected steel pipe, and leaks from these systems contribute less than 5% of the total U.S. emissions. These regional variations and the low emissions associated with plastic pipes are significant as the U.S. moves toward replacement of older pipelines with plastic and uses plastic for new distribution expansion.”

This study was the third in a series reviewing methane emissions from throughout the natural gas supply chain. In each case the research was performed with the cooperation of the EDF, an academic institution, and relevant natural gas facility owners and operators.

Stay tuned for a blog in the coming weeks where we’ll discuss some of the parallels between each of the three studies.