California’s Largest Utility Plans Bankruptcy As CEO Makes For The Exit

Tim Pearce | Energy Reporter

Geisha Williams is stepping down as the CEO of PG&E Corp., the largest utility in the U.S., while potential liability over recent California wildfires drives the company into bankruptcy.

PG&E announced Williams’s departure Sunday and its plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a day later. Investigators found that the power utility had caused 17 major wildfires in 2017, and evidence suggests the company may be responsible for others in 2018 as well, The Wall Street Journal reports. (RELATED: Murder Charges, Sell-Off Or Bankruptcy Are All On The Table For California’s Biggest Utility After Deadly Wildfires)

PG&E’s general counsel John Simon will serve as interim CEO until the board of directors finds a new head. The California Public Utilities Commission is considering breaking up the power company.

“While we are making progress as a company in safety and other areas, the board recognizes the tremendous challenges PG&E continues to face,” PG&E board chairman Richard Kelly said in a statement Sunday, according to WSJ. “Our search [for a new CEO] is focused on extensive operational and safety expertise, and the Board is committed to further change at PG&E.”

The company will file for bankruptcy around Jan. 29, giving its employees a 15-day notice in line with California law, Reuters reports.

The PG&E board of directors is pushing Williams out as CEO over fallout from the company’s liability in sparking deadly wildfires across California.

The Camp Fire, the most deadly and destructive fire in state history, has yet to be assigned an official cause, but PG&E reporting having an equipment malfunction near the spot around the same time the fire ignited. The Camp Fire killed 86 people and all but destroyed the town of Paradise.

California’s wildfires in 2017 and 2018 will likely cost tens of billions of dollars. Just two 2018 wildfires, the Camp and Woolsey fires, are estimated to have done $8.6 billion in damage.

The company has about $1.5 billion in cash heading into bankruptcy and is negotiating with lenders to get about $5.5 billion more in debtor-in-possession financing to stay in business and continue providing power and gas to millions of Californians, according to Reuters.

The company does not expect bankruptcy to interfere with providing its customers with power and other services, the company said in a statement Monday.

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Tags : california energy pacific gas and electric
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