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California utility PG&E replaces CEO amid bankruptcy worries

California's largest public utility provider could face murder or manslaughter charges if it were found responsible for causing the state's recent deadly wildfires, according to court documents filed by the state attorney general.

Embattled utility PG&E, facing potentially billions of dollars in liability over California’s deadly wildfires last year, has replaced its CEO.

The company said Sunday night that CEO Geisha Williams has stepped down. She will be replaced temporarily by John Simon. The PG&E (PCG) board said it would look to hire a new chief executive with “extensive operational and safety expertise.”

“While we are making progress as a company in safety and other areas, the Board recognizes the tremendous challenges PG&E continues to face,” said Richard Kelly, chair of PG&E’s board. “We believe John is the right interim leader for the company while we work to identify a new CEO.”

Williams had been CEO since 2017.

Reuters reported January 7 that the company was looking into filing for bankruptcy protection. The stock has since fallen 28%.

PG&E could be on the hook for tens of billions of dollars for its potential role in California’s devastating Camp Fire last year — the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

The cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation, according to state fire officials. But PG&E has suggested it may be responsible. In a PG&E report last month, the company outlined how employees discovered damaged power towers minutes before the Camp Fire broke out. One employee called 911 the day the wildfire started after spotting flames close to a high-voltage tower in Butte County — 15 minutes after a transmission line went out near that location.

Experts who follow the company say PG&E’s total liability could be as much as $30 billion. However, the utility’s total market value is below $15 billion, and PG&E has just $3.5 billion in cash after borrowing from an existing revolving credit line.


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