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Avista Leaves CA; Southwest Gas Assumes S. Tahoe Utility Customers

It was a relatively short run with less than 20,000 customers, but Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities Friday ended its natural gas utility operations in South Lake Tahoe, CA, turning them over to Las Vegas, NV-based Southwest Gas Corp., which is the gas utility distributor in the surrounding mountains and foothills east of Sacramento. Avista said the sale is consistent with its renewed focus on the Pacific Northwest.

The $15 million sale was announced by Avista and Southwest last July and approved by the California Public Utilities Commission last month, transferring the South Lake Tahoe natural gas distribution system. The deal became final earlier in the week.

Avista Utilities President Scott Morris called the sale "consistent with Avista's strategy to focus on its utility business in the Northwest." Southwest last week said its acquisition would be complete by Friday, shifting the responsibility for another 18,600 gas utility customers to its California operations.

Southwest, whose major service areas are in rapidly growing areas of southern Nevada and parts of Arizona, along with the mountain-desert regions in the east part of Southern California, now has more than 40,000 customers in the north-central foothills and mountain areas in the Lake Tahoe Basin and Truckee, CA, about 40 to 50 miles east of Sacramento. Southwest mailed information with customer service and emergency phone numbers to the new customers.

Dennis Redmond, the Southwest vice president in charge of northern California-Nevada operations, said the company wants to assure the new customers "they will receive our continued commitment to providing safe and reliable natural gas service." Southwest and Sierra Pacific Power Co. are the two remaining gas utilities serving the general Lake Tahoe area on either side of the California-Nevada border.

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