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California’s largest utility,PG&E Corp., named Patricia K. Poppe as its new chief executive officer to lead the energy giant as it struggles to regain public trust after its equipment sparked deadly wildfires that drove the company into bankruptcy last year.
Poppe will be PG&E’s third CEO in the past two years, it said in astatement Wednesday. She will take over on Jan. 4, replacing interim chief Bill Smith, who took over from Bill Johnson, the veteran utility executive who steered the company through Chapter 11 before retiring at the end of June.
The stakes are high for the century-old utility. It pleaded guilty in June to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter for its role in starting the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in 2018. Regulators have put in place oversight measures that could include a state takeover if the company causes another catastrophic blaze.
The announcement follows a record-breaking wildfire season. PG&E has cut power multiple times in recent months to large swaths of Northern California to prevent its power lines from sparking more catastrophic blazes. The effort has been mostly successful, although investigators are looking at the company’s equipment as the possible cause of a large fire that killed four people in Shasta County.
PG&Eemerged from Chapter 11 in July after settling wildfire claims from individual victims, insurers and public agencies for $25.5 billion.
The company, which serves about 16 million people in Northern and Central California, has replaced 11 of its 14 board members since collapsing into bankruptcy. It also made a number of other concessions in order to win state approval of its reorganization plan, including freezing its dividend for three years and changing its operations to have more of a safety focus.
Poppe is departing as CEO ofCMS Energy Corp. on Dec 1. and will be succeeded by Garrick Rochow, executive vice president of operations.
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