Pacific Gas & Electric, California’s largest investor-owned utility, has done itself no favors in the hiring of its new chief executive, CEO Bill Johnson.
Oh, Johnson seems capable enough. He ran the Tennessee Valley Authority, the largest public utility company in the country, for six years, during which time the utility managed to not blow up neighborhoods or burn down huge chunks of its service territory.
But the disclosure that he will have a $6-million annual compensation package, with a $3-million signing bonus on his first day next month, is seriously bad optics for this financially beleaguered company that is complicit in some of the worst fires in California’s history.
Furthermore, his base salary is more than twice that of PG&E’s most recent CEO, Geisha Williams, who split just two weeks before the utility filed for bankruptcy. I can’t decide if the utility is sexist or just out of touch.
Of course, it probably wasn’t easy to find someone willing to take the job of running a company that’s not only saddled with a criminal conviction and a terrible credit rating, but also reviled by so many of its customers. Some qualified executives, in fact, may not have taken the job for any amount of money.
But come on. This is the company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January, claiming it couldn’t afford the wave of claims expected from those who lost homes and loved ones in recent massive wildfires that were caused by the utility’s power lines.
PG&E told the Sacramento Bee that Johnson’s compensation will be paid by shareholders, not by ratepayers. I’m not sure that’s any consolation to the burned-out folks in Paradise who remain homeless.
Mindy Spatt, a ratepayer advocate for the Utility Reform Network, called the pay package “outrageous” considering the utility’s current financial state. “You have to wonder why they always have money to shell out for executives, no matter what,” she said.
Perhaps that is a question the bankruptcy judge might pose before signing off on the deal.