Embattled California utility PG&E, which recently filed for bankruptcy protection and faces billions of dollars in liability over deadly wildfires, has named a new CEO.
California’s largest power company on Wednesday named William Johnson to the post. Johnson was previously president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority for six years.
PG&E touted the Tennessee Valley Authority’s safety record and reduction in coal generation and carbon emissions under Johnson. The utility said half of Johnson’s incentive compensation will be tied to PG&E’s safety performance and metrics.
“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 in the statement. “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.”
Johnson replaces John Simon as the company’s interim CEO. Simon took over for Geisha Williams, who stepped down in January amid the company’s widening financial crisis. Just weeks later, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which will allow it to shed some of its debt, pay for damages and stay in business.
PG&E also announced it is adding 10 new members to its board of directors. The new members will join three existing PG&E directors on the board, and seven members will step down.
“The significant changes in leadership reflect PG&E’s focus on strengthening its safety culture and operational effectiveness and successfully navigating the Company’s Chapter 11 process,” the company said in a statement.
“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 be on the hook for tens of billions of dollars in damages for its possible role in a series of wildfires in California, including the 2018 Camp Fire. That blaze caused deaths, destroyed homes and thousands of other buildings.
The cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation, according to state fire officials. But PG&E has suggested it may be responsible. In a report, the company outlined how employees discovered damaged power towers minutes before the Camp Fire broke out. One employee called 911 the day the wildfire started after spotting flames close to a high-voltage tower.
Experts who follow the company say PG&E’s total liability from the blazes could be close to $70 billion.