The board of directors at Pacific Gas & Electric, already dealing with the possibility of a bankruptcy filing, is now tasked with looking for a new CEO after Geisha Williams resigned this weekend.
Williams, who took the CEO role at PG&E less than two years ago, stepped down even as the company was reportedly telling employees about a potential Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in the wake of liabilities over the California wildfires.
PG&E General Counsel John Simon was named as interim CEO, while the board begins the search for a permanent replacement to Williams.
“On behalf of the Board, I want to thank Geisha for her service and her tireless commitment to our employees and the 16 million Californians we serve,” said Richard C. Kelly, chair of the Board of PG&E Corp. “While we are making progress as a company in safety and other areas, the board recognizes the tremendous challenges PG&E continues to face.”
Simons joined the company in 2007 and has been general counsel since 2017. He also held leadership roles in the human resources and corporate services departments.
“We believe John is the right interim leader for the company while we work to identify a new CEO. Our search is focused on extensive operational and safety expertise, and the board is committed to further change at PG&E,” Kelly added.
Earlier this month, the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco said state investigations blamed Pacific Gas & Electric power lines for some fires in October 2017. Investigators also found evidence that state law was violated.
“These facts, specifically if PG&E started a wildfire by reckless operation or maintenance of its power lines, may serve as a basis for the court to find that the defendant corporation violated” terms of its probation, prosecutors said.
A U.S. judge in 2017 put PG&E on five years of probation following its conviction on pipeline safety charges stemming from an explosion of one of its pipelines in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010.
The filing by prosecutors came after a judge overseeing the pipeline case asked PG&E to explain any role it may have played in a massive wildfire last month that leveled the Northern California town of Paradise and killed at least 86 people.
Investigators have not determined the cause of the wildfire that began November 8, but speculation has centered on PG&E, which reported an outage around the time and place that the fire ignited.
The judge could impose new requirements on the utility if it’s found to have violated its probation in the pipeline case. The company already has been ordered to pay a $3 million fine, run television commercials publicizing its convictions and have an independent monitor oversee the safety of its gas pipeline system.
Last week, a judge proposed that PG&E re-inspect its entire electric grid and cut off power during certain wind conditions regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.
Judge William Alsup said in a court order his goal was to prevent the utility from causing any wildfires in the 2019 fire season.
He gave PG&E until Jan. 23 to respond to his proposal. PG&E said it was reviewing Alsup’s order.