Central Maine Power traces its origins to 1899, when engineer William Wyman and a partner hooked up a tiny hydro generator to serve 100 customers in Oakland. Today, CMP distributes power to 600,000 customers but generates no electricity. It has evolved into a small subsidiary of Iberdrola S.A., a worldwide energy company headquartered in a 40-story office building in Bilbao, Spain.

CMP’s detractors lament the lack of local control and the foreign ownership inherent in this corporate structure, but it’s part of an almost 20-year-old trend tied to the restructuring of the region’s electric industry.

For instance: Directors of Bangor Hydro Electric Co. voted in 2001 to sell the company to Emera, a Halifax, Nova Scotia-based diversified energy company. Nine years later, directors of Aroostook County’s leading utility, Maine Public Service, followed suit and became Canadian-owned. In 2013, both local names were dropped in favor of Emera Maine.

Beginning in 2000, National Grid, which is based in the United Kingdom, began buying electric and gas companies in the Northeast. It now owns utilities that serve 20 million people in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.

NEW OWNERSHIP, NEW LOGO

CMP also was an investor-owned company with publicly traded stock until 2000. That’s when its directors voted to sell the Augusta-based utility to New York State Gas & Electric. The sale resulted in a holding company called Energy East.

In 2008, Iberdrola bought Energy East for $4.6 billion. CMP became a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola USA. Two years later, as part of a new branding campaign, Iberdrola dropped CMP’s familiar Pine Tree logo. The current logo uses a green leaf that the company says represents respect for the environment. Blue and orange drops represent energy resources used by Iberdrola – blue for wind and water, orange for natural gas and the sun.

In 2015, Iberdrola USA bought UIL Holdings, a handful of gas and electric utilities in Connecticut for $3 billion and created a new investor-owned company called Avangrid. The new company reports $31 billion in assets and operates in 24 states. It has two primary divisions, Avangrid Renewables and Avangrid Networks. CMP is part of Networks.

Today, Iberdrola owns roughly 81 percent of the shares of Avangrid common stock.

This ownership has led some critics to decry what they see as foreign control of an American public utility, underscored by the investment of an Arab country.

The Qatar Investment Authority indirectly owns 8.57 percent of Iberdrola’s shares, according to Security and Exchange Commission filings. The authority is the state-owned investment company of that Middle East nation. It has no directors on the Iberdrola or Avangrid boards.

Under U.S. law, any financial interest greater than 10 percent is subject to approval by federal energy regulators. A similar requirement is in place in Maine, requiring approval at the Public Utilities Commission.

TWO MAINERS ON AVANGRID BOARD

Avangrid also has two Mainers serving in board positions, one with a strong background in business and the other in government.

Betsey Timm is an independent, non-executive member of the board of directors. A former president of Bank of America in Maine, she sits in the board’s Audit and Compliance panel.

Also on the board is former Maine Gov. John Baldacci.

Some of CMP’s detractors see a sinister element in the presence of Baldacci, who has an annual compensation of $200,000. They say he was rewarded for supporting CMP’s $1.4 billion transmission system upgrade in 2009, the Maine Power Reliability Program.

Avangrid says Baldacci, who has served on the board since 2014 and now is vice chairman, was selected for his deep experience in government relations and economic development.

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