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Avista Raised to Investment Grade by Fitch

Spokane, WA-based Avista Corp. said Fitch Ratings pushed up the company's credit rating to the lower rung of its investment grade (from "BB+" to "BBB-"). Avista's credit now is rated as investment grade by the three major rating agencies.

Following what Standard & Poor's Ratings Services and Moody's Investors Service had done in February last year and December 2007, respectively, Fitch cited Avista's "more balanced" regulatory environment, improved financial profile and continued focus on its core utility business as major factors for the upgrade, Avista said.

The higher ratings mean Avista holds a stronger ability to secure debt at lower rates, the utility holding company said. "A reduction in interest costs over time, together with increased financial flexibility, may result in lower operating expenses," a spokesperson for the company said.

Avista Utilities is the company's utility with 355,000 electric and 315,000 natural gas customers spread around three western states -- Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

"To have an investment-grade rating with the three major ratings services is a significant milestone for the company," said CEO Scott Morris, noting it is the fulfillment of a goal that the company has been working on since the end of the western wholesale energy market meltdown seven years ago, which sent its credit rating plummeting.

"Fitch's [action] is a solid indication of our company's progress toward financial recovery. While this is an important achievement, we still have work to do in strengthening our financial standing, especially as we continue our significant investment in our utility's infrastructure, including hydroelectric generation plant enhancements and our transmission and distribution systems."

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