Recent News on the Butte County Camp Fire

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PG&E Appoints New CEO After Second Bankruptcy in the Last 2 Decades

PGE Cleared

According to The New York Times, California energy giant, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), has appointed a new CEO (Bill Johnson) after their last officer (Geisha Williams) left the position this last January.

Why Did PG&E Select a New CEO?

In light of the recent fires in California (and bankruptcy), PG&E has said that is appointing new board members and a new CEO to improve the “safety culture and operational effectiveness” of the company. Whether or not these new appointments will rectify the mistakes made in the past few decades remains to be seen. Currently, PG&E faces several billion dollars in liabilities because of the recent Camp Fire in Butte County California. According to the PG&E board of directors:

“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. We believe our new C.E.O. 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 Board of Directors.

Who is the New CEO of PG&E?

Bill Johnson is the newly appointed CEO of PG&E. He has a history of working with energy companies such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and Progress Energy (now Duke Energy). However, even with Johnson’s resume, many have concerns as to his ability to help improve the safety record of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).

Bill Johnson was the lead officer of Progress Energy during the renovation and reconstruction of a large nuclear power plant in Crystal River, Florida when the company made a less-than-sound decision to forgo hiring an engineering firm (the industry standard practice) and to do the renovations from within the company. This lack of engineering experience led the workers to crack one of the main housing units for the reactors which caused the entire plant to have to be shut down.

Another example of Bill Johnson’s folly was in 2012 when he was the chief executive of Duke Energy for less than a day before he was fired (with a severance package of around $44 million). Reasons for his removal from the position included his leadership style and for a lack of transparency.

Not all of what he has done can be considered negative, though. For example, after he was made the CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority (a federally owned energy utility company) and managed to reduce the company’s debt by around $3.5 billion and increased their usage of carbon-free energy sources.

Who Are the New Board Members for PG&E?

Some of the more prominent new members of the board include:

  • Nora Mead Brownell who has severed as a commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Jeffery Bleich who was a partner at Dentons law firm
  • Cheryl Campbell who has worked for Xcel Energy

To select these new board members, PG&E first discussed the selections with three major Wall Street investment firms. These firms included:

  • Redwood Capital Management
  • Abrams Capital Management

What Does California Have to Say About All This?

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s spokesperson Nathan Click has said the following about PG&E and their recent happenings:

“Time and again, PG&E has broken the public trust and its responsibilities to ratepayers, wildfire victims and employees. While changes were made in the last few days to augment the safety and government expertise on the board, this proposed board still raises concerns — particularly the large representation of Wall Street interests and most board nominees’ lack of relevant California experience.” – Nathan Click, spokesman for Governor Gavin Newsom of California

Hopefully, these new appointments by PG&E can help correct the several disastrous mishaps from the last couple of decades. However, only time will tell.

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