MAINE, USA — Joe Purington said he was just 21 years old the first time he went to work for Central Maine Power. He was a year out of Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute (now Southern Maine Community College) and was hired for what he says was a hands-on job dealing with electrical systems.
Now, 34 years later, the Maine native is back as CMP’s president.
“I have a passion for this industry, and the opportunity to come back and lead in my home state is really a dream come true,” Purington told NEWS CENTER Maine.
He worked 28 of those years for CMP, rising through the ranks to take on more and more responsibility. He finally left the company, worked for its corporate parent Iberdrola for a time, and then became president of Eversource, the electric utility in New Hampshire.
Purington said CMP recruited him to leave the Granite State and become the new leader of Maine’s largest utility. He started work at the new job in September 2021.
Having worked in the neighboring state, Purington said he was very much aware of the problems CMP has endured over the past four years, starting with an unsatisfactory response to a major power outage and then the prolonged controversy over errors in the company’s new billing system, which surfaced at the start of 2018.
Those issues led to intense publicity, thousands of complaints, and several investigations.
They also led to a dramatic shift in how the company is rated by its customers.
Purington said that in 2013 he could look at a series of J.D. Power awards CMP had received for customer satisfaction. But starting in 2018, satisfaction plummeted to the lowest rating in the country among utilities. It’s remained low ever since.
“It’s a long journey back to the top of the hill,” Purington said. He said the company is making progress toward that goal.
“I think the foundation has been laid. We just need to continue to build on It. And every day [we] continue to do what’s right for our customers,” he said.
The new president said meeting customer needs and expectations is one of two primary goals for CMP. The other, he said, is ensuring reliable electric service. In recent years, the company has been faulted for frequent power outages and for a sometimes slow response to making needed repairs.
He said they have improved in outage response and preparation. The storm last week with snow and powerful coastal winds could have caused significant outages. Purington said they had 175 line crews — many more than usual — standing by and prepositioned in case of outages.
Reliability, he said, is essential to improving customer satisfaction and meeting customer needs.
“So every morning at 8:30 during the weekday, we have an 8:30 reliability call, and what we cover is the previous four hours’ outages. Were there opportunities to reduce the duration of outages? Could we have reduced the number of customers impacted by that outage? Did equipment operate as designed?” he said.
Those daily meetings, he said, are an idea he brought to CMP from Eversource.
“So we are really focusing on [the] daily performance of the system and making sure it’s operating as designed.”
Purington said daily monitoring extends to other potential trouble spots, including customer billing.
“Making sure bills are accurate, they are out on time — that’s part of service quality metrics we’ve been reporting to the PUC,” he said. “If we continue to do those things and do them well, we will see improvement in how the system performs. Customers will see that and benefit from those efforts.”
Purington came to CMP with a unique perspective on one of Maine’s two major utility issues — the NECEC Corridor, the 175-mile transmission line to bring hydropower from Quebec into Maine, to connect into the New England grid.
That highly controversial project has been stalled by court challenges and a statewide referendum vote, and two separate cases are proceeding in the Superior and Supreme Courts, along with an upcoming appeal hearing by the Board of Environmental Protection.
When Purington was president of Eversource, that company hoped to provide the corridor for Quebec power via the Northern Pass corridor, which was ultimately rejected by a New Hampshire legislative committee and the state’s highest court.
His job at CMP, Purington said, does not involve the NECEC. A separate branch of the parent company Avangrid is handling that project.
Purington, however, said he supports bringing hydropower into Maine and New England from Canada, saying the state needs a new source of baseline electricity to accompany all the proposed solar projects, which he describes as intermittent power.
The other major issue is the ongoing citizen petition drive, aimed at a statewide referendum vote to force a public takeover of both CMP and Versant Power.
Purington said the prospect of a public takeover is “a huge concern” and said it would be detrimental to the state.
He said their best way to stop it is to progress on those same reliability and customer service goals.
“That’s how we will do it. One customer at a time, one commitment at a time, but we will do it,” he said.