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Burden of decision: A native son climbs to Avista’s top job, then arranges the sale of the company

Scott Morris’ climb to the top of Avista Corp. began with a chance conversation.

The recent Gonzaga University graduate and newlywed was coaching ninth-grade football at East Valley High School. His wife was starting graduate school.

“I need a full-time job,” Morris told another coach.

“Water Power is hiring,” the coach replied.

Morris got a job wrapping insulation around customers’ water heaters as part of an energy efficiency push in 1981. The temporary gig morphed into a 36-year career with Spokane’s homegrown utility, which Morris would eventually lead as chairman, president and CEO.

Washington Water Power, later renamed Avista, was founded when Washington was still a territory. The company’s history tracks Spokane’s development from a frontier town that looked to its waterfalls for cheap electricity to a 500,000-plus metro area.

If all goes as planned, Morris will go down in the books as the executive who signed off on the utility’s $5.3 billion sale to a Canadian company, Hydro One of Toronto. The deal is expected to close next year.

Avista’s sale is a weighty decision, Morris said in a recent interview, but one he thinks history will look favorably on.

“When I started here, obviously I never thought I would be the CEO of the company,” said Morris, 59, a Spokane native.

Morris said the corner office he occupies in Avista’s corporate headquarters on Mission Avenue still seems like “Wendell Satre’s office,” or “Paul Redmond’s office” or “Gary Ely’s office,” after longtime executives who ran the company before him and left their mark on Spokane as civic leaders.

“We’ve had such great leadership,” Morris said. “The weight of making sure I kept that tradition, respected those values, and that I’ll leave the company in a better place, is a burden that I’ve carried.

“I have a deep responsibility to this 128-year-old company,” he said. “I want to…

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