Joe Purington, president and CEO of Central Maine Power. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The lopsided rejection by voters of a proposed public utility demonstrates that Maine’s largest utility has won acceptance from its customers, its chief executive officer said Tuesday.

Joseph Purington, Central Maine Power’s CEO and president, brushed aside the beating his company and Versant Power took during the campaign at the hands of advocates for Pine Tree Power, the name of the proposed public power company. Critics had blasted the utilities, which together provide electricity to 97% of Maine, as out-of-touch and profit-driven, responsible for frequent outages and excessively high electricity rates.

“We’re happy it’s behind us, without question,” Purington said in an interview at CMP’s offices in Portland. He smiled when reminded of the sizable 70% to 30% Election Day win for the utilities. “It really just validated what we’ve been focused on the last couple of years.”

CMP continually looks at its performance, affordability and reliability, he said. A “daily reliability call” examines system performance. Customer billing, community relations, communications with customers and complying with rules set by state officials and regulators are frequently reviewed, he said.

CMP also established a customer relations department in 2021 in the wake of widespread complaints and has been trying to improve information sharing, Purington said.

And he raised what had been a sore subject for CMP: the utility’s billing system. A Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram investigation in 2019 revealed that CMP management misjudged the enormity of changing over to a new billing system, leaving thousands of angry and frustrated customers.


That led to a formal investigation by the Public Utilities Commission, which concluded in January 2020 that CMP mismanaged the billing system’s rollout and that contributed to late or inaccurate bills.

But those issues have been resolved. Of the 650,000 bills CMP issues each month, 99.7% of them have been accurate and on-time over the last 3-1/2 years, according to Linda Ball, vice president of customer service.

“That doesn’t happen by accident,” she said.

William Harwood, the state’s consumer advocate who remained neutral during the Pine Tree Power campaign, said he and others “were wondering if a lot of the frustrations with CMP and the billing problems would generate a bigger problem” for the utilities that might have resulted in a narrower margin.

He said he’s not optimistic the utilities’ decisive win will lead to major utility reform in the Legislature.

“I don’t see a mandate for change,” Harwood said.


However, Harwood did say CMP needs to be “reined in” and blocked when it “appears to be putting more emphasis on the bottom line than service.”

With the defeat of Pine Tree Power, discussion about energy policy may instead shift more to supply, particularly transmission lines to connect to hydropower in Quebec and onshore wind power in northern Maine, Harwood said.

David Clough, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said small businesses did not support Pine Tree Power, but their votes against it were not a show of confidence in the utilities.

“They did not agree with Pine Tree Power as the right approach, but they think the power companies and regulators need to work to improve service and reliability,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Lucy Hochschartner, deputy campaign manager and spokesperson for Our Power, the group behind Question 3, blamed the decisive loss on nearly $40 million spent by the utilities to kill the ballot measure. Advocates spent a little more than $1 million.

On election night, Hochschartner criticized the utilities for relying on others, such as business advocates and former state legislators, to argue against Pine Tree Power.


“I hope we see better from them but the system is fundamentally broken,” she said.

Advocates of Pine Tree Power criticized CMP and Versant for their foreign ownership that critics say steers money out of Maine. CMP is a subsidiary of Avangrid, a part of the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, and Versant is owned by ENMAX Corp., an energy company based in Calgary, Alberta.

Purington pushed back on that, citing CMP’s success in locating transformers that are needed to change the voltage of electricity to make it usable, which are in short supply.

“Being part of a global company gives us access to global resources,” he said.

In addition, dividends that would be paid to Iberdrola shareholders were for many years reinvested in CMP, “still in Maine,” said Peter Cohen, vice president of CMP’s regulatory operations. “It wouldn’t necessarily be possible without having Iberdrola being a majority shareholder because oftentimes shareholders aren’t willing to forego their dividend payments.”

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