Former Central Maine Power Co. CEO David Flanagan is returning as executive chairman of the electric utility’s board of directors in an effort to restore the company’s battered reputation and improve its customer service.

Flanagan, 72, who was chief executive of CMP from 1994 to 2000, said Wednesday that his top priority is to “restore public trust in our organization.” He said he would accomplish that task “ounce by ounce and step by step,” although he offered no specifics.

More than a quarter century ago, Flanagan was also tasked with rebuilding public confidence in the utility.

A Portland Press Herald article about David Flanagan from 1994.

When he was named president of CMP in 1994, the company was losing both residential and industrial customers over high rates, its bonds had been reduced to junk status and it had slashed its stock dividend.

In interviews at the time, Flanagan said making CMP “a prosperous and growing business again” wouldn’t be done quickly or easily, but that it was his goal.

In the current shake-up, Doug Herling, the president and CEO of CMP, will report to Flanagan, who in turn will report to Tony Marone, the president and CEO of Avangrid Networks, a business unit of CMP parent company Avangrid. Avangrid is owned by Iberdrola, a multinational electric utility conglomerate based in Spain.

CMP has been rocked with problems over the past few years – a Portland Press Herald investigation found that CMP bungled the rollout of a new billing system in 2017 and misled the public over billing and customer service problems. Questions have been raised over the ability of the company’s electric grid to withstand severe storms. CMP also is planning to build a controversial 145-mile transmission corridor through the North Woods to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to the New England grid, where it will go to electric customers in Massachusetts.

Flanagan said Wednesday that the $1 billion corridor project will be overseen by others at Avangrid, and that he won’t have responsibility for it. Opponents of the plan have submitted more than 75,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in November to stop the project, although the signatures have yet to be validated.

The corridor still needs approval from two regulatory agencies, and Herling has been leading CMP’s efforts to build public support for the project.

Flanagan’s first stint with CMP gave him experience dealing with damage to the electrical system caused by weather. He was head of CMP during a major ice storm in 1998 that led to the loss of power to hundreds of thousands of customers in CMP’s territory, which covers southern and central Maine.

He also oversaw the closing of the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset in 1997. Near the end of his time at CMP, Maine’s electric system was restructured to split power-generating companies from those that deliver electricity, such as CMP and Emera Maine, which serves northern Maine.

CMP’s David Flanagan, with back to camera at left, in Augusta in 1998 explaining to then-Vice President Al Gore, right, Gov. Angus King, Sen. Olympia Snowe and the rest of Maine’s delegation (not shown) the status of downed power lines and the efforts to fix them. Staff photo by John Patriquin

In a news conference Wednesday, Flanagan said he wasn’t interested in assessing blame for the company’s troubles and would focus instead on restoring faith in CMP. He said that may require hiring more workers to improve responses to customer complaints.

“Maine people first, last and always – that will be my defining motive going forward,” he said. “There’s no magic to it – it’s just basic blocking and tackling.”

He said that he “was perfectly happy” with his life, and that Avangrid had come to him to ask him to return to CMP.

During his previous tenure at CMP, Flanagan led a company turnaround, causing a significant improvement in the public’s perception of CMP at the time.

When the Avangrid board members discussed how to deal with the current problems at CMP, they naturally thought of bringing Flanagan back, said former Maine Gov. John Baldacci, a member of the company’s board.

“It was a lot of people coming together and recommending him highly,” Baldacci said. “I was one of many people.”

Baldacci said Flanagan likes challenges, and that it wasn’t difficult to get him to agree to take on the job.

He also said the decision to separate the jobs of rebuilding trust in CMP and overseeing the corridor project was an easy one. Flanagan’s background, Baldacci said, is in managing the operations of CMP, and the board didn’t want to mix that mission with a complex and controversial construction project.

“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself,” Baldacci said.

Prior to his work at CMP in the 1990s, Flanagan was chief legal counsel for former Gov. Joseph Brennan and later helped rejuvenate Preservation Management Inc., a national affordable housing management company. He also has served as chairman of the University of Maine system, and as president of the University of Southern Maine helped oversee a restructuring of the school.

Those roles helped Flanagan build relationships with state officials that he will likely call on as lawmakers consider a proposal to force a public takeover of CMP and Emera, which would involve the creation of a publicly owned electric utility.

In recent years, Flanagan has served on the board of the Harold Alfond Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic groups in the state with more than $900 million in assets.

Flanagan has been “a terrific board member,” said Gregory W. Powell, chairman of the foundation board, who cited Flanagan’s deep knowledge of the state and its economic needs as being key strengths that Flanagan brought to the board.

Powell said Flanagan let him know that he was considering returning to CMP, and that he hopes that Flanagan remains on the foundation’s board.

“I don’t know that I’m happy about sharing him,” Powell said.

One of the leaders of the effort to convert CMP to a public utility, state Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said he welcomed Flanagan’s return to CMP, but that “his return does nothing” to address the issues facing the company, particularly expanding the power grid and reducing outages.

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