Wednesday, 20 March, 2019

CEO of California utility PG&E resigns as firm faces liability over wildfires

Employees of Pacific Gas & Electric work in the aftermath of the Camp Fire in Paradise PG&E Bankruptcy Filing Looming
Jean Garcia | 14 January, 2019, 19:14

Williams, who took the helm in 2017, will be replaced temporarily by the company's general counsel, John Simon, until a full-time chief executive is hired.

The company said Monday that it has only about $1.5 billion in cash and cash equivalents on hand.

"PG&E expects that the Chapter 11 process will, among other things, support the orderly, fair and expeditious resolution of its potential liabilities resulting from the 2017 and 2018 Northern California wildfires, and will assure the company has access to the capital and resources it needs to continue to provide safe service to customers", the company said. It said both the parent corporation, PG&E Corp., and the utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., will file for bankruptcy.

Williams had been CEO since 2017.

Earlier this month, NPR reported that PG&E has developed a plan, dubbed "Project Falcon", to sell off its natural gas division as a way to fund the billions of dollars in potential claims from the California wildfires. "We believe John is the right interim leader for the company while we work to identify a new CEO". The board concluded that a Chapter 11 reorganization "is ultimately the only viable option to restore PG&E's financial stability", according to the filing.

Shares in the company are expected to fall by more than 50% when trading begins on Monday.

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That would bring up another concern for Northern California residents, many of whom haven't forgotten the San Bruno gas explosion that killed 8 people and leveled a neighborhood in 2010: Who would be their new gas company or companies, and would they be any better than PG&E?

PG&E, which serves 15 million Californians - nearly 40% of the population of the state - warned then it could face "significant liability" beyond its insured amount if its equipment was found to have caused the fire.

Newsom said during a press conference Thursday that his office would be making an announcement related to PG&E within the next few days and that the issue was at the top of his agenda.

Williams knew the risks that she faced because of wildfires liabilities. It is the deadliest and most destructive wildfire to have occurred in the state.

While state lawmakers rejected PG&E's request to change wildfire liability law, they did pass legislation in August that will help PG&E pay for lawsuits arising from the wine country fires. The Camp Fire killed 86 people and all but destroyed the town of Paradise.

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