Central Maine Power is easy to hate, probably because the state’s largest electric utility has a tendency to go out of its way to be obnoxious.
Customer complaints? They’ll get to them next year. Or the year after.
Power outages? Get a generator, cheapskate.
Inaccurate bills? After careful investigation, CMP has decided you should shut up and pay whatever it tells you to pay.
Disconnect notices? CMP can’t wait to start sending them again.
Then there’s that 150-mile transmission corridor the company wants to build through the western Maine forests, so it can deliver Canadian power to Massachusetts. CMP has done everything it can think of to keep this issue from going to a popular vote, including hiring private detectives to follow petition circulators, directing its lawyers to file lawsuits and employing public-relations experts to convince Mainers this project will benefit anyone other than the company’s stockholders.
Like I said, easy to hate.
But I’m still willing to set aside my intense dislike for this impersonal, unethical, uncaring, foreign-owned corporation, and seek a compromise between CMP and its opponents.
I was inspired to come up with such a deal after hearing an interview CMP executive chairman David Flanagan gave to CBS 13 in September. Flanagan told the TV station, “We are on the comeback trail.”
At the time, I thought his doctors should be hustling him into the examining room to see if his medications were out of balance. Evidence of anything remotely resembling a comeback seemed to be sadly lacking. The state Public Utilities Commission had just fined CMP nearly $10 million for ignoring billing errors. J.D. Power’s survey of customer satisfaction for electric utilities nationwide had ranked CMP dead last for both residential and business customers. For the third year in a row.
Maine’s utility finished behind a company that uses rats on exercise wheels to generate power and another that gets its juice from electric eels and even one that forced widows and orphans to turn heavy gears for 12 hours a day on a diet of moldy bread and cloudy water. I know all this is true because I read it on the Internet.
That “comeback trail” of Flanagan’s seemed to be overgrown with the sort of heavy vegetation CMP wants to rip up to build that power corridor. And that’s when the idea for compromise hit me like a falling utility poll.
The company badly needs to humanize itself. That was the whole idea behind bringing back Flanagan earlier this year. In his previous stint as CMP’s top executive between 1994 and 2000, he earned his reputation, according to the Portland Press Herald, as a “beloved former CEO.” The folksy Flanagan had projected a genial, avuncular image that almost made his customers feel warm and fuzzy about paying too much for unreliable electricity. They’re no good at what they do, the public seemed to be saying of the old CMP, but they’re sorta trying not to be even worse.
Now it’s time for Flanagan to reignite that magic. Here’s what he has to do. The 72-year-old executive needs to get out of his fancy offices, shed his suits that cost more than the average CMP customer pays in a year and show what he’s really made of.
I propose to drop all opposition to anything the utility wants to do if Flanagan will go up to the Canadian border and run from there to Lewiston, along the entire length of the transmission line he wants to build. Easy peasy.
Well, almost. There are a couple other conditions. Flanagan will have to complete the trip in 14 days. In winter weather. Without any support staff. And one more thing.
He’ll have to be stark naked.
It’s possible this experience will give Flanagan a new appreciation for the wilderness terrain he wants to ruin. Although, that seems unlikely. A better guess is it’ll cause him to curse every square inch of land he crosses on his bleeding, frostbitten feet.
Either way works for me.