Environment

CEO of PG&E Steps Down Amid California Wildfire Crisis

1/14/19
from The Wall Street Journal,
1/13/19:

Geisha Williams is leaving the state’s largest utility as it faces billions in potential fire liability costs.

PS&G said Sunday that Chief Executive Geisha Williams was stepping down as the company grapples with the growing political and financial fallout of its role in helping spark California wildfires. California’s largest utility said John Simon, the company’ general counsel since 2017, will serve as interim CEO as the company’s board of directors conducts a search for a new chief. PG&E faces billions of dollars in potential liability costs stemming from wildfires, many started by the company’s equipment, that have led state regulators, lawmakers and others to question the safety of the company’s electric distribution system. Investigators have already found PG&E’s equipment responsible in at least 17 major wildfires in 2017. State investigators haven’t determined whether the company played a role in November’s Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history, but the company disclosed that some of its equipment malfunctioned in the area shortly before the fire started. The California Public Utilities Commission has stepped up a continuing probe into the company’s safety practices and is considering whether the company should be broken up, among other things.

California law makes utilities responsible for any fire started by their equipment, even if they weren’t negligent. PG&E faces dozens of lawsuits from residents and insurers seeking compensation for fire damages. Analysts have estimated that PG&E could face as much as $30 billion in wildfire liability costs. State lawmakers are considering whether to let PG&E turn much of its liabilities into securitized debt, which customers would pay off through their electricity prices. But public criticism of PG&E is mounting, complicating the prospect of a move that could be viewed as a bailout for the company.

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