Environmental, Jobs and People, North America

Former TVA CEO Johnson taking reins at bankrupt PG&E

Embattled and bankrupt northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric has replaced key leadership again as it deals with its alleged culpability in the state’s deadly wildfires over the past two years.

PG&E announced that recently retired Tennessee Valley Authority CEO William “Bill” Johnson will replace John Simon as CEO and president. Simon stepped in as interim CEO after Geisha Williams resigned early in the year amidst the company’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it’s second such filing in the last two decades. She had led the company since 2016.

“We appreciate the calm and steady hand that John Simon demonstrated while serving as our interim CEO. Mr. Simon’s stewardship kept the Company focused on public safety and enabled the Board to conduct its refreshment process to address PG&E’s future needs,” the PG&E board stated in its announcement.

Equally important, the utility holding company appointed 10 new directors for its board, effective as the next meeting.

“We have heard the calls for change and have taken action today to ensure that PG&E has the right leadership to bring about real and dynamic change that reinforces our commitment to safety, continuous improvement and operational excellence,” the board added. “We believe our new CEO and the newly constituted Board will help PG&E address California’s evolving energy challenges and deliver what our customers expect from their energy company.”

PG&E could face multiple billions of dollars in liabilities for the wildfires. State investigators absolve it in a 2017 blaze that killed 22 people. Later, however, the company itself admitted in a federal filing and earnings report that its equipment likely caused the deadly November 2018 Camp Fire.

PG&E notified the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it believes transmission failure ignited what many say was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history. The utility reported that it was taking a $10.5 billion pre-tax charge in the fourth quarter related to the Camp Fire claims against it.

The SEC filing detailed equipment failures which likely contributed to the blaze that killed 86 people, destroyed more than 10,000 structures and damaged about 150,000 acres

 Johnson helmed the TVA for six years before stepping down in April. The publicly owned utility achieved high safety marks during his tenure and reduced its carbon emissions 50 percent over the last decade, according to the board statement.

He also worked as CEO of Progress Energy before the TVA. Johnson will take over the reins at PG&E sometime later this month.

I am humbled to take on this new challenge and am dedicated to meeting the high expectations that our customers, regulators and legislators have for PG&E,” Johnson said. “While the challenges facing PG&E and California are significant, by working together, we will overcome them to serve the best interests of our customers, their families and the communities we serve. This starts with a steadfast commitment to providing safe and reliable power.”

Effective as of the next in-person board meeting, which will be held as soon as practicable, Richard Barrera, Jeffrey Bleich, Nora Mead Brownell, Cheryl Campbell, Michael Leffell, Kenneth Liang, Dominique Mielle, Meridee Moore, Kristine Schmidt and Alejandro Wolff will join continuing PG&E directors Fred Fowler, Richard Kelly and Eric Mullins on the Board. In connection with these appointments, the remaining directors will be stepping down from the Board at that time.

The members of the newly constituted Board will elect a new chair of the board and determine committee assignments. All PG&E directors, including the newly appointed directors, will stand for election at the annual meeting, scheduled for May 21.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and [email protected]).