California Regulators Question PG&E’s Vow to Improve Safety

Qualifications of new chief executive and board members questioned


In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, file photo, a Pacific Gas & Electric truck enters their customer center in Hayward, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom says PG&E plans to remake its board of directors with hedge fund financiers and people who have little experience in utility operations and safety. Newsom, on Thursday March 28, 2019, said putting hedge fund managers in charge of the company will send a message the utility prioritizes profits over providing safe and reliable energy service. The utility did not immediately comment. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)


By PAUL ELIAS Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California regulators expressed skepticism Monday that Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.’s new leaders have enough professional experience to instill the deep corporate culture of safety they say the company has lacked.

The utility has been blamed for more than a dozen of California’s most destructive wildfires in the past two years.

The five-member California Public Utilities Commission questioned veteran PG&E board member Richard Kelly about the safety qualifications of 10 new board members and incoming chief executive Bill Johnson, who starts May 1.

“It safe to say that there is still anxiety,” CPUC president Michael Picker said at a commission meeting in San Francisco.

Picker and other commissioners said a majority of the board appear to have little experience with building corporate safety programs.

Kelly defended their resumes, saying it was “imperative” that PG&E board members have financial skills to help the company emerge from bankruptcy protection, which it filed for in January.

“I think we really were looking for people who would bring profound experience in compliance and safety culture,” Kelly said.

Johnson was hired to run PG&E after serving six years as chief executive of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a publicly owned utility.

“We’re hoping he brings the skillset needed to change the culture,” Kelly said. “I’m hoping we’ll see a new PG&E with him in charge.”

Northstar Consulting Group, hired by the PUC, reported last month that PG&E continues to lack an overall safety strategy, a shortcoming identified two years ago.

Northstar said in the report that a new safety plan PG&E developed fell short and that it continues to be concerned that the company’s divisions are adopting safety plans independent of each other.

Northstar also said PG&E managers aren’t providing enough supervision of safety inspectors in the field.

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