Central Maine Power Co.’s new president and CEO said Wednesday that he plans to continue efforts to restore trust in the embattled company, a task started by David Flanagan, the CMP leader taking a diminished role after being diagnosed with cancer.
Joseph Purington, a Jay native, comes to the utility from Eversource Energy, where he was president of New Hampshire operations. His duties included the role of incident commander for large-scale power restoration efforts covering more than 500,000 customers.
The announcement came before Flanagan revealed he is battling pancreatic cancer, telling the Portland Press Herald that is getting twice-weekly treatments at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta. He told the newspaper that he has low energy levels as a result of the sickness and treatment. Flanagan will remain in a less-demanding advisory role to Purington.
CMP has about 646,000 customers in central and southern Maine. The state holds the dubious distinction of topping most other states in the number and duration of power outages caused primarily by severe weather and downed trees, according to an analysis of federal data by electric automation company MRO Electric.
He also worked for CMP for 28 years before joining Eversource, including managing CMP’s energy control center and leading transmission and distribution system operations. He was director of system operations for CMP’s parent Iberdrola USA, now known as Avangrid.
Purington takes the reins after the June retirement of former CMP president Doug Herling. Flanagan, 74, who served as CMP’s CEO from 1994 to 2000, was hired back in 2020 as executive chairman with a goal of restoring CMP’s standing with customers.
Its reputation dropped after the utility’s slow response to a massive 2017 windstorm, which was followed by billing and customer service errors that led to a $10 million penalty from a state regulator. Under Flanagan, CMP offered a $25 credit for late or inaccurate bills following a botched start to the company’s new billing system.
Purington and Flanagan worked together during the ice storm of 1998 in Maine that brought most activity in Maine to a halt for days. Purington said he wants to make CMP’s infrastructure stronger and more resilient to prepare for the increasingly harsh weather in New England.
“He is well-suited to lead CMP into a new era that demands more clean energy to support the electrification of our economy,” Flanagan said.
Purington, who plans to move to Windham, said CMP was rated highly in customer satisfaction when he left the company and he was surprised to see its ratings flag, saying he wants to “move the company forward.”
The new leader takes over as CMP is facing major political challenges. Mainers will vote in November on a question aiming to stop the $1 billion hydropower corridor through western Maine being managed by a CMP affiliate and Hydro-Quebec. Critics are also pushing for a 2022 referendum vote to replace CMP and Versant Power, the state’s other big electric utility, with a consumer-owned utility after Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill to do so.
Purington said there’s no guarantee a consumer-owned utility will change anything or make service better, and it could bring long legal battles and uncertainty.
“When you get into these situations … no one will be willing to make the investments we need to make,” he said. “Every day, the system is getting older.”