PG&E CEO Pressed on Safety at CPUC Hearing

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PG&E’s top executive sought to assure a skeptical fire victim and regulators at a hearing Tuesday that the company would restructure itself to bolster safety as it seeks to emerge from bankruptcy.

Corporate CEO Bill Johnson faced strong questioning at the outset of the first day of CPUC hearings on PG&E’s bankruptcy reorganization plan expected to be in place by June.

“It’s not a good safety history, is it?” ratepayer watchdog group TURN attorney Tom Long chided Johnson.

“It is what it is, how about that? A lot of issues, big issues.”

Johnson was frank about what he has learned in the less than one year he has been chief executive of the corporation. Managers, he said, had been holed up in far-flung offices, avoiding the field. The focus was on meeting metrics about delivering energy, not safety.

“Frankly, I think there’s been a lack of accountability at some levels in the leadership to produce good safety results.”

Johnson is proposing a still undefined plan to break the company into four or five regions to improve control and safety accountability.

But William Abrams, a Tubbs fire survivor whose Santa Rosa home burned down, appeared skeptical given PG&E’s track record of failing to follow through on its commitments.

“It’s the victims who live around the PG&E lines who are rebuilding their homes” who need assistance, he said. “Counting on and trusting,” the company, he said, “is something that is difficult to do.”

In response, Johnson stressed the company is facing unprecedented scrutiny to make sure it follows through on its promises.  “If we say it, people are going to make sure we do it, including me, but not limited to me,” he told Abrams.

“I appreciate that, thank you,” the wildfire victim said in reply.

Johnson promised the company will have a detailed restructuring plan spelled out by June, the month PG&E hopes to be out of bankruptcy.

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