Pacific Gas and Electric on Wednesday announced the latest overhaul of its board of directors in another step toward the nation’s largest utility ending its bankruptcy.
The board includes 11 new directors who will oversee the decisions made by PG&E management, as part of an agreement the company made with the state to shake up a corporate culture that has emphasized shareholder profits over the safety of the 16 million people who rely on it for power.
Neglect of the utility’s aging electrical grid allowed it to fall into disrepair, igniting catastrophic wildfires that killed more than 100 people and destroyed more than 27,000 homes and other buildings in 2017 and 2018. The death and destruction led to damages PG&E couldn’t afford to pay, prompting the company to file for bankruptcy early last year.
Only three members will remain from a board that PG&E largely assembled after filing for bankruptcy. The holdovers include former AT&T executive Bill Smith, who will become PG&E’s interim CEO after the company’s current leader, Bill Johnson, steps down on June 30. That’s also the date PG&E is aiming to get out of bankruptcy so it can qualify for coverage from a wildfire insurance fund created by the state.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali has promised to rule on PG&E’s $58 billion reorganization plan by then.
The 11 new board members include a mix of people with experience in utilities, technology and emergency management. Those qualifications may help PG&E adopt more stringent safety measures and do a better job managing and communicating its planned blackouts to prevent more wildfires in the next few years.
The new directors with utility experience include Mike Niggli, the former chief operating officer for the corporate parent of San Diego Gas & Electric, which has a better safety track record than PG&E; former Federal Emergency Management Association Agency administrator Craig Fugate; and longtime Silicon Valley executive Jessica Denecour.
PG&E’s board will be in charge of picking Johnson’s permanent replacement as CEO.
“Putting in place a new board is a critical component of PG&E’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy as a re-imagined utility,” said the company’s chairman, Nora Mead Brownell, who is among the departing directors.