State Public Utilities Commission president Michael Picker announced Thursday he was retiring this summer – ending a tenure marked by two years of devastating wildfires and the recent bankruptcy of the utility blamed for them.
Picker, known for his self-deprecating humor and low key leadership style, was in charge of the commission when the agency approved the record $1.6 billion penalty against PG&E over the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion.
Since then, he publicly struggled with what approach to take to regulate the utility, repeatedly musing that it might be “too big” to effectively regulate.
Although Picker had pledged to do everything possible to avoid its financial collapse, the company declared bankruptcy early this year under the burden of two years of devastating wildfires.
The agency has yet to levy a single fine against PG&E, despite findings by Cal Fire investigators that several of the 2017 North Bay fires were sparked by PG&E allowing trees to grow too close to power lines. The company recently admitted its equipment sparked the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County that left 85 people dead and destroyed the town of Paradise.
Picker announced his departure as president near the end of the commission meeting on Thursday, saying it made a “great deal of sense” to announce on that day since the commission had just acted to authorize wildfire mitigation plans developed by the state’s utilities. He said it was fitting now that “we have a plan for actually meeting our responsibilities.”
Picker will stay on at least through July, and possibly longer, depending on when Gov. Gavin Newsom finds his replacement.
Picker had served as an energy advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown before he joined the commission in 2014. He became commission president later that same year with the departure of Michael Peevey, who had become mired in a scandal over backdoor communications with utilities.