San Francisco

Head of California Public Utilities Commission to Retire

The head of the California Public Utilities Commission announced Thursday that he will retire after almost five years on a job dominated by oversight of devastating wildfires.

Michael Picker said at a commission meeting in San Francisco that he won't leave his job as president of the state's utility regulator until Gov. Gavin Newsom names his successor.

Picker was appointed to the commission in 2014 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown and became president in December of that year. At the helm, much of his work has focused on regulating and investigating the state's biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.

Investigators have found that many of California's most destructive and deadly wildfires in recent years have been caused by PG&E equipment. The commission's work has been focused in recent years on working to ensure utility equipment is safer and to prevent more fires.

The commission said Thursday that utilities need to do a better job of educating and notifying the public as they widen precautionary power outages this summer.

In its latest effort to strengthen wildfire awareness and safety, the commission approved guidelines for when utilities can cut electricity during high winds and low humidity to avoid sparking wildfires like the one that devastated the Northern California community of Paradise last fall, killing 85 people.

Commissioners also approved utilities' wildfire prevention plans, which include cutting back vegetation and improving electric lines.

Picker previously served as the governor's senior adviser for renewable energy from 2009 to 2014, as deputy treasurer in the state treasurer's office from 1998 to 1999 and in a variety of other state government offices. He also spent several years as chief of staff to former Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna Jr.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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