In 2018, a faulty transmission line triggered the deadliest and most expensive wildfire in California’s history. The utility responsible for the fire, PG&E, pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter, filed for bankruptcy and settled its liabilities with $25.5 billion in payouts.
Given the unprecedented nature of PG&E’s malfeasance, it’s right to expect the utility would be rated least popular in the nation among business customers. It isn’t. For the past three years, that honor has belonged to Central Maine Power.
While CMP boasts “Flip a switch and we’re there,” Mainers experience the highest frequency of power outages in the country and are without power for longer periods than other U.S. households. Additionally, CMP mismanaged rollout of its billing system and is attempting to build a widely unpopular transmission line from Quebec.
The most impactful hit on CMP’s reputation is its lack of authenticity. While the company scrambled to resolve billing system issues, CMP’s CEO met with the press to deny the issues existed. As CMP branded its proposed transmission corridor as a mechanism to deliver clean energy, it actively lobbied against legislative efforts to substantiate that claim and claimed to the Department of Environmental Protection that “nowhere has CMP stated that the Project’s purpose and need includes (greenhouse-gas) emissions reductions.”
For all its efforts to appear a company that upholds Maine values, CMP has demonstrated a clear inability to recognize that Mainers have historically defined character by what one does, not by what one says it does.
Amid recent criticism and pending deliberation related to CMP’s mishandling of solar projects, CMP Executive Chairman David Flanagan argued that CMP is committed to implementing renewable energy solutions in Maine with urgency and innovation. This outrageous claim then quickly turned to the absurd when Flanagan claimed CMP has been a collaborator for the past century.
I haven’t been around long enough to speak for CMP’s approach during its first nine decades, though I know enough Maine history to recognize CMP forcibly destroyed towns in 1949 to increase profits. I can attest to the past decade, and the portrayal of CMP as a collaborator is laughable.
From 2010 to 2018, CMP actively fought efforts to increase solar energy use in Maine. It successfully utilized the highest-paid team of lobbyists in Augusta to support vetoes of then-Gov. Paul LePage. CMP sent representatives into meetings with Republican leadership to discuss solar policy, negotiated compromises, and then reversed course by claiming their representatives hadn’t been given full authority to negotiate.
Meanwhile, CMP ignored the clear direction of the Legislature and Public Utilities Commission and refused to pay for meters required to implement policies it supported. Maine’s solar industry expended tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and significant administrative time to hold CMP accountable to those obligations. Eventually we won and later demonstrated that CMP’s willingness to tell one story at the State House and another at the PUC resulted in ratepayer costs that far exceeded those considered by policymakers.
Interestingly, CMP is now touting its support of the legislation that opened the doors for Maine’s current wave of solar expansion. CMP’s support was not a change of conscience but one resulting from efforts to deliver larger shareholder profits. In early 2019, CMP signed a memorandum of understanding with Conservation Law Foundation and Acadia Center to gain key support for its transmission corridor. In exchange, CMP committed to supporting solar policy. This negotiation was done without the support of leading solar stakeholders.
Over the past decade, CMP conducted a full assault on solar development and is now shouldering the consequences of that position. Their lack of preplanning is the primary reason only a small portion of the proposed solar investment in Maine has been spent. Contrary to CMP’s assessment of the success of solar policy it “supported,” the benefits of solar aren’t realized when projects are proposed on paper; they’re realized once solar arrays are erected and electrons are flowing.
Maine households and businesses recognize that CMP’s words don’t match their deeds. We deserve a political and regulatory environment that also recognizes this and demands more. Without accountability, CMP will continue to be the largest obstacle Maine faces in its goals to provide reliable power to its people and combat climate change.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vaughan Woodruff is the former CEO of Insource Renewables and served as chair of the solar industry’s trade association during the LePage administration.