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PG&E names Bill Johnson as CEO and overhauls its board

Bill Johnson
Bill Johnson, shown in 2017, is wrapping up his time as CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public utility.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

PG&E Corp. announced an overhaul of its leadership late Wednesday: The troubled California utility chose Bill Johnson as president and chief executive and named 10 new directors to its board.

Johnson — who is wrapping up his time as head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s biggest publicly owned utility — and the new board will have the job of shepherding the San Francisco company through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The 10 new board members include former U.S. ambassadors and members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

PG&E’s “board refreshment” comes as the company faces intense scrutiny for its equipment’s role in sparking deadly California wildfires and for its overall approach to safety. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, saying it couldn’t afford potentially tens of billions of dollars in wildfire liability costs.

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“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 said in a statement Wednesday.

A meeting will be held as soon as possible to seat the new board, and then all members will be up for election at an annual shareholders meeting in May, PG&E said. Seven members of the preexisting board are out, and three remain, bringing the board’s total size to 13.

Gov. Gavin Newsom publicly criticized the utility last week, saying its leaders planned to put hedge fund financiers and people with little to no California experience on its new board.

His spokesman, Nathan Click, said some changes had been made in the slate announced Wednesday. But the governor still has concerns — particularly about “the large representation of Wall Street interests and most board nominees’ lack of relevant California experience,” Click said in an emailed statement.

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California plans to hold the utility “to the highest standards,” he said.

The board members include several people with energy and utility expertise as well as people with jobs in investment management and expertise in bankruptcy.

“PG&E is in critical need of leadership that will put safety first and build public trust,” Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) said in a statement, adding that the new leaders will have to prove themselves with “actions and results, not words or symbolic gestures.”

The company’s previous CEO, Geisha Williams, resigned in January shortly before PG&E filed for bankruptcy.


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