PG&E CEO to Step Down After Tumultuous Year at Helm

Pacific Gas & Electric CEO Bill Johnson. (Nicholas Iovino / CNS)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Beleaguered utility Pacific Gas & Electric’s CEO and president Bill Johnson will retire on June 30, the company announced Wednesday — a departure that coincides with the utility’s deadline to exit bankruptcy in time to qualify for a state-created wildfire insurance fund.

PG&E declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy following a series of wildfires that swept through Northern California in 2017 and 2018, many of which are believed to have been started by PG&E’s aging equipment.

“I joined PG&E to help get the company out of bankruptcy and stabilize operations. By the end of June, I expect that both of these goals will have been met,” Johnson said in a statement.

In March, PG&E agreed to plead guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter and one count of recklessly starting the 2018 Camp Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California history. The company will pay $4 million, including a maximum $3.5 million fine and $500,000 to reimburse the Butte County District Attorney’s office for investigation costs.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali recently rejected the utility’s bid to pay its criminal fine to Butte County out of a $13.5 billion trust for wildfire victims.

California’s utilities regulator also fined PG&E $2.14 billion for its role in causing the fires, a penalty it decided on Monday to reduce by $200 million to help the company emerge from bankruptcy and compensate victims. 

Johnson will be replaced by longtime AT&T executive Bill Smith, who retired as president of technology operations after 37 years with the telecommunications company.

Smith joined the board of directors in December 2019 and has been named interim CEO.

“I have been deeply involved in the board’s work helping to prepare PG&E for its successful emergence from bankruptcy,” Smith said. “I am delighted that I can bring my knowledge and experience to bear going forward, working together with employees, our regulators, and elected officials to introduce the new PG&E and continue to fulfill the company’s commitments to its customers and communities.”

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