PG&E CEO Bill Johnson announces retirement when utility resolves bankruptcy case

PG&E Bill Johnson announced his retirement on April 22, 2020

PG&E Corporation announced on Wednesday that its chief executive officer and president, William D. “Bill” Johnson, has decided to retire from the company.

His retirement will become effective on June 30,  which is expected to be after the company’s reorganization plan confirmed by the bankruptcy court.

“I joined PG&E to help get the company out of bankruptcy and stabilize operations. By the end of June, I expect that both of these goals will have been met,” Johnson said in a statement. “As we look to PG&E’s next chapter, this great company should be led by someone who has the time and career trajectory ahead of them to ensure that it fulfills its promise to reimagine itself as a new utility and deliver the safe and reliable service that its customers and communities expect and deserve."

PG&E has named William “Bill” Smith as interim CEO.

Smith, who joined the PG&E Board of Directors in 2019, will serve in this role from the time of Johnson’s departure through the appointment of a new CEO.

Johnson will remain on the board until June 30.

Andrew Vesey, current CEO and president of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the utility subsidiary, will continue in his role overseeing the company’s electric, gas, generation and customer operations.

Smith is the retired president of AT&T Technology Operations at AT&T Services, Inc., where he spent 37 years with the telecommunications service provider and its predecessor companies.

Johnson's announcement comes a day after California regulators were advised to approve Pacific Gas & Electric’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy with new controls designed to prevent a recurrence of the utility’s past bad behavior that has resulted in deadly wildfires, infuriating blackouts and high electricity rates.

If approved, a proposed decision issued Monday by Administrative Law Judge Peter Allen will enable PG&E to clear another key hurdle in its frantic race to end one of the most complex bankruptcy cases in U.S. history by June 30 or risk losing billions in state funding.

The California Public Utilities Commission, the company’s chief regulator, will vote on the recommendations in the 117-page report May 21.

Although it said it was still reviewing some of the finer points of Allen’s decision, PG&E called it a “positive step.”

PG&E also still needs the approval of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali, who is overseeing the business since it sought bankruptcy protection because of $30 billion in claimed losses from catastrophic Northern California wildfires ignited by its decaying electrical grid in 2017 and 2018.

More than 82,000 wildfire victims are currently voting on a plan to create a $13.5 billion fund for those who lost family, homes and businesses. The voting is due to be completed May 15. A bankruptcy court hearing on whether to confirm PG&E’s plan is scheduled May 27, the day after the company is supposed to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in the 2018 wildfire that wiped out the town of Paradise.

PG&E needs to exit bankruptcy by June 30 to qualify for coverage from a wildfire insurance fund the state created last summer. Without that coverage, the utility’s plan won’t be financially viable.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.