Few things brighten up a dismal situation like the phrase “I know a guy.”’

It implies that, as intractable as a problem may be, having a contact on the inside just might help, if not resolve it altogether.

Take for example Central Maine Power Co.’s disastrous roll-out of its new $56 million billing system, expertly chronicled in last weekend’s Maine Sunday Telegram by Staff Writers Tux Turkel and Penelope Overton.

Their accounts of the company’s stupefying dysfunction, coupled with the unforgivable distress it has caused more than a few everyday Mainers as they struggle to keep the lights on, raise the question: Can someone, anyone, talk some sense to this runaway utility? Someone to whom they might listen? Someone with a little clout?

Well, fellow Mainers, it turns out we do know a guy. His name is former Gov. John Baldacci.

Since 2014, the former two-term Democratic governor has sat on the board of Avangrid, Inc., which owns CMP under the corporate umbrella of the Spanish multinational energy giant Iberdrola. He currently serves as vice chairman of the board, for which he is paid a handsome $200,000 a year.

Baldacci has also been an Avangrid stockholder. In a filing last September with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he declared ownership of 350 shares of the company stock, currently worth just over $18,000.

Since 2014, former Gov. John Baldacci has sat on the board of Avangrid, Inc., which owns CMP under the corporate umbrella of the Spanish multinational energy giant Iberdrola. Press Herald staff photo

Late Tuesday afternoon, after leaving an email and two phone messages asking to speak with Baldacci about his connection to Avangrid, I heard back from the former chief executive.

“Board members don’t speak individually, we act and speak as a board,” he wrote. “Best to discuss the matter with the company’s executives/communications team.”

End of interview.

Had we actually chatted, I’d have asked Baldacci: How does it feel, after representing Maine for eight years in the Blaine House and, before that, for eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives, to hold a leadership position with a company whose corporate reputation is arguably the worst in recent Maine history?

I’d have followed up with: We know you haven’t made any public statements about the Iberdrola/Avangrid/CMP mess. But what have you done internally to persuade the rest of the Avangrid board that profits, at some point, have to take a back seat to treating your customers like – and I’m choosing my words carefully here – a bunch of backwoods idiots too clueless to know they’re getting ripped off?

That truth is, a multitude of Mainers are painfully aware that CMP’s gain is their loss. And they’re fighting back, judging by the scores now flocking to join a class-action suit that had already attracted hundreds of irate customers before Sunday’s stories hit the presses.

Like the rest of us, Baldacci surely must have read the story of Shanon and Aaron Dixon and their three adopted nieces, whose electric bill inexplicably almost tripled over the course of a year. When CMP said it might be the water pump, the Waterville family stopped flushing the toilet after urinating. The kids now take their showers at the local Boys & Girls Club.

Or the story of Jane Liedtke, who closed down her Bay Leaf Cottages and Bistro in Lincolnville two winters ago like she always does. That didn’t stop CMP, with its nifty new billing system, from sending her a one-month bill for $800 along with another $250 monthly charge for an office that was in hibernation.

Then there’s Tyna and Nathan Dyar of Hiram, who couldn’t figure out why the electric bill on their two-bedroom trailer suddenly spiked from $50 to $100 two winters ago. CMP said their kids were playing too many video games – problem is, they only have a 1-year-old baby.

The stories go on, all real-life examples of what happens when a utility, under pressure from above to get its new billing system up and running and start saving some money, curtails crucial testing and cuts other corners until the whole thing predictably blows up in its face virtually from day one.

And to compound its sins, the same utility then does everything under the sun to shift the blame to the customer – at least those who manage to get through to a customer service representative – rather than own the fact that it is the problem, not the people saddled with its bogus bills.

And through it all sits Baldacci, who back in his 2004 State of the State address proclaimed, “Providing for the common good, making people feel secure in their communities and homes – this is the central job of government. It’s why all of us are here serving our state and our people.”

Indeed.

The “central job” of Avangrid, of course,  is to make money. And, since it’s a regulated utility, that’s why it’s more than happy to have someone like Baldacci occupy the number-two position on its board.

And while we’re on the topic of political allies, we should also note that Avangrid and/or Iberdrola USA, its corporate predecessor, has donated $48,500 to members of Maine’s congressional delegation since 2008, according to OpenSecrets.org.

On Tuesday, I asked spokespeople for three of them still in office – Sen. Angus King ($10,000), Sen. Susan Collins ($11,000) and Rep. Chellie Pingree ($6,500) – to square their criticisms of Avangrid/CMP in the wake of the Maine Sunday Telegram investigation with the fact they more than once over the past decade have accepted donations from the company. (Avangrid made no donations to Maine 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden.)

Replied Collins, through campaign spokesman Kevin Kelley: “A contribution to Senator Collins’ campaign shows a contributor’s support for her, not her support for them. At this time, we don’t have any plans to return the contributions.”

Replied King, through spokesman Jeff Sobotko: “Last year, Senator King opposed CMP’s proposed transmission line and this week, he condemned the company’s irresponsible billing practices that hurt Maine people. If the utility thought it was buying him, they must be extremely disappointed with the results.”

Replied Pingree in an email: “I have decided to return the past contributions to my re-election campaign from CMP/Iberdrola. I can’t in good conscience accept the donation while it is clear the company has yet to accept responsibility for their actions and present a plan to make their customers and my constituents whole.”

Fair enough.

Still, the big kahuna here remains Baldacci, whose campaign days are long over.

Safely concealed behind the solidarity of his corporate board, he no longer needs to answer questions about where his loyalties lie. Or what, if anything, he’s done to advocate for Maine people now that he’s beholden not to them, but to their profitable, foreign-owned electricity supplier.

So much for knowing a guy.


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