Bankrupt California utility PG&E announces new CEO, board shakeup

PG&E has been under intensifying scrutiny in the wake of the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California (AFP Photo/Josh Edelson)

Washington (AFP) - Troubled California utility PG&E on Tuesday named Bill Johnson as its new CEO, as it faces contentious bankruptcy proceedings and billions of dollars in potential liabilities over its role in a series of deadly wildfires.

The largest utility in the most populous American state, Pacific Gas and Electric Company has been under intensifying scrutiny in the wake of the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California that left 86 people dead and destroyed some 18,000 buildings.

It was the deadliest fire in the state's modern history, and sharpened questions about whether the utility had put profits over safety.

PG&E could face massive liabilities if investigators find that its equipment was responsible for the fire.

Its new CEO Johnson, 65, helmed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) -- the largest publicly owned utility in the United States -- for more than six years, PG&E said in a statement, adding that under his leadership, TVA "achieved the best safety records in its 85-year history."

In addition to the Johnson appointment, the San Francisco-based utility said it is also reorganizing its board, with "highly accomplished individuals committed to further enhancing PG&E's safety culture" and "fairly treating wildfire victims."

Investigators are trying to determine what role a damaged 115,000-volt line at one of PG&E's towers, reported by the company moments before the 2018 fire, may have played in the disaster.

Critics have also pointed to the company's history of problems, including more than 700 counts of criminal negligence over failing to trim trees near power lines following a big fire in 1994.

It was fined $1.6 billion over a 2010 gas pipeline explosion that killed eight and injured dozens.