PG&E intends to file for bankruptcy

Announcement comes day after CEO resigns as utility faces financial uncertainty amid wildfire liability

San Francisco-based PG&E Co. announced via a news release early Monday morning that it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy just one day after its CEO resigned, according to company officials.

The Monday announcement is a 15-day advance notice that the company intends to file for bankruptcy reorganization around Jan. 29, utility officials said. The company does not expect any impact to electric or natural gas customers, and reiterated its commitment to rebuilding communities affected by massive wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

"Chapter 11 will best enable PG&E to resolve its potential liabilities in an orderly, fair and expeditious fashion," PG&E interim CEO John Simon said.

On Sunday, the company's CEO Geisha Williams, the chief executive officer of PG&E since March 2017, resigned, and Simon, who was the corporation's executive vice president and general counsel, was named as her interim replacement.

Cal Fire determined in June 2018 that some of the devastating wildfires that struck Northern California in 2017 were caused by PG&E equipment. Cal Fire announced that the utility's "electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles," caused at least a dozen wildfires in six Northern California counties.

The Chapter 11 procedure enables a company to freeze its debts and continue operating while it develops a financial reorganization plan. The plan must be approved by a federal bankruptcy judge.

"Our goal will be to work collaboratively to fairly balance the interests of our many constituents -- including wildfire victims, customers, employees, creditors, shareholders, the financial community and business partners -- while creating a sustainable foundation for the delivery of safe service to our customers in the years ahead," said Richard Kelly, chair of the PG&E Board of Directors.

The bankruptcy announcement and Williams' departure comes as PG&E is facing a financial crisis. Its market value has plunged since November's Camp Fire, which devastated the town of Paradise and surrounding areas in Butte County.

Damage from that blaze, the state's deadliest ever, and from 2017's Tubbs Fire that caused major damage in Santa Rosa and other parts of Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties, could lead to the company being liable for up to $30 billion.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and other elected officials vowed on Monday to work to protect the public interest during PG&E's imminent Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

"Everyone's immediate focus is, rightfully, on ensuring Californians have continuous, reliable and safe electric and gas service," Newsom said in a statement.

Newsom said that in the coming months, he will work with the Legislature and all affected groups "on a solution that ensures consumers have access to safe, affordable and reliable service, fire victims are treated fairly, and California can continue to make progress toward our climate goals."

In a separate statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the utility said its liability from the fires could be more than $30 billion, not including possible punitive damages or fines.

The statement said PG&E Co. and its parent holding company, PG&E Corp., have $1.4 billion in cash on hand, $1.4 billion in wildfire liability insurance for the current year and $840 million in insurance for the previous year. Simon said the utility expects to obtain an additional $5.5 billion in bank loans by the time it files its bankruptcy petition.

State regulators have called for management changes within PG&E, and the utility may end up getting a bailout package of some kind.

PG&E has started the search for a permanent CEO, but Richard C. Kelly, board chairman of PG&E, on Sunday said Simon is the man for the moment.

"We believe John is the right interim leader for the company while we work to identify a new CEO," Kelly said in a statement. "Our search is focused on extensive operational and safety expertise, and the Board is committed to further change at PG&E."

Simon has served as PG&E's executive vice president and general counsel since 2017, and has been with the company since 2007, serving in several management roles.

Williams had also been with PG&E since 2007, and in March 2017 became the first Latina CEO of a Fortune 500 company. In 2017, she made $991,667 in base pay and $7,600,410 in total compensation. She has resigned from the boards of both PG&E and its holding company.

PG&E, which is owned by shareholders, provides electricity and natural gas to 16 million customers in Northern and Central California.

The utility previously filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001 in the midst of billions of dollars of debt for spiraling wholesale electricity costs during the state's 2000-01 energy crisis. It emerged from the bankruptcy case in 2004.

PG&E told the SEC that it is aware of 50 lawsuits filed thus far on behalf of 2,000 plaintiffs in connection with the Camp Fire and 700 lawsuits by 3,600 people related to the 2017 wildfires.

A federal judge who is overseeing PG&E's probation in a criminal pipeline safety case has tentatively ordered the utility to inspect its entire electrical service area and remove or trim any trees and repair any transmission equipment that could cause wildfires.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup will hold a Jan. 30 hearing to decide whether to go ahead with the order, which if finalized would become a new condition of probation.

The federal pipeline safety investigation grew out of a fatal explosion in San Bruno in 2010 of a defectively welded PG&E natural gas transmission pipe. Eight people died.

PG&E was convicted of five counts of violating safety laws in connection with several pipelines and one count of obstructing the San Bruno investigation. It was fined $3 million and sentenced to five years of probation with conditions including a requirement not to commit any federal, state or local crimes.

— Bay City News Service

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


6 people like this
Posted by Vigy
a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Jan 15, 2019 at 3:11 pm

Vigy is a registered user.

Couldn't happen to a more deserving company. We had to talk to eight different people over a week's time to find out why they drilled a hole in our driveway and painted lines all over the street.

1 person likes this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jan 15, 2019 at 4:08 pm

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

That isn’t why they are filing bankruptcy. This is a result of how natural disasters are paid for through a public company via government regulation.

We worry about corporate influence on government, here is a tale of government influence on corporate.

Government caps on rates. Government force to serve all customers regardless of investment cost, unions, and government holding a utility accountable for natural disaster costs regardless of initial contribution to cause, government siding with hippies preventing maintenance.

Not saying pge isn’t also responsible but the political influence holds a major role in this

2 people like this
Posted by Silverfox
a resident of Castlewood
on Jan 15, 2019 at 8:08 pm

Silverfox is a registered user.

Does anyone know if this will affect the CARE program? I have looked but cannot find anything but am pretty much worried too.

Like this comment
Posted by DKHSK
a resident of Bridle Creek
on Jan 16, 2019 at 8:55 am

DKHSK is a registered user.

"Government caps on rates."

I'm going to look for information on the effect of Gov caps on rates and whether they truly keep costs down. I don't believe they do.

Anecdotally, I know of one town, Roseville, which has cheaper rates then surrounding PGE-served communities. They have their own utility. I also heard that Davis and surrounding communities are structuring their own services that are billed to be cheaper than PGE but I have yet to seek the details.

Regardless, anytime the Gov regulates and/or taxes an entity, prices will go up, and services will go down. This is economics 101.

Want quick proof of this concept? Our gas taxes are some of the highest in the nation. Those taxes were supposed to be used on roads and transportation. One need look no further than our local roads to know that the taxes are not being allocated where they are needed the most.

On the other hand, we do get a train from nowhere to nowhere...

So I guess we have THAT going for us...which is nice...

ht/ Bill Murray

1 person likes this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jan 16, 2019 at 9:14 am

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

Rates are approved by California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E clearly provides inputs into what rates should be, but they're approved and "set" buy CPUC.

Municipalities can sometimes be cheaper, but PG&E carries state mandated overhead they don't have to. If you blow up PG&E, those costs will transition to municipalities.

Again, not saying PG&E isn't at fault to some of this, they absolutely are, but our state has been using PF&E to pass along costs to "rate payers" instead of passing taxes onto the public.

Its actually in politicians favor for PG&E to remain an entity.

Like this comment
Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 16, 2019 at 1:04 pm

The 2020 State Building Code, (following State of California Title 24 Part 6), Requires Zero Net Energy homes. In essence to achieve Zero Net Energy a building must produce enough renewable energy to equal its annual energy consumption.

The key to this compliance is “Renewable”. Natural Gas is not renewable, and building emissions from natural gas are supposedly responsible for 25% of all emissions of greenhouse gas.

The new 2020 code standards include a requirement for new homes built in California starting in 2020 to include solar rooftop panels. The approved standards still allow some new home construction to continue with limited natural gas but the state is pushing to reduce gas over time and mandate a shift to electric appliances, such as heat pumps and water heaters.

So they are not saying that they are banning natural gas, just that they are making it much harder to use.

Like this comment
Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 16, 2019 at 1:06 pm

The bottom line is that our monthly PGE bills are going to sky rocket.

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Val Vista
on Jan 17, 2019 at 11:10 am

Pleasanton Parent is right...PG&E is partly responsible, but they are not alone. You can add the state and the environmentalists to the list and population shifts which forced PG&E to provide power to those fire prone areas which in the past had low populations. And maybe you can even add the planning commissions and city councils in those areas who allowed the developers to build more and more. And where were the local fire departments? It could be a long list but PG&E gets the shaft because of the way the state applies the Inverse Condemnation Law...if the utility's equipment causes a fire then they are responsible even if they weren't negligent. If lightning strikes a transformer then its PG&E's fault for having the transformer there.

Like this comment
Posted by BobbyJ
a resident of Downtown
on Jan 18, 2019 at 4:53 am

Couldn't happen to a more deserving company. We had to talk to eight different people over a week's time to find out why they drilled a hole in our driveway and painted lines all over the street.Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by unblocked games com
a resident of Avignon
on Jan 20, 2019 at 6:16 pm

The challenge for electrical utilities is that people want to live in scenic locations, locations that may or may not be economically defensible from fires. Once they get approval to build, prospective residents must pay for the installation of electrical access. They are, naturally, reluctant to pay any more than they must for this access. Since it is far cheaper to string wires on poles than to put wires underground, residents chose poles.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Differentiating Grief from Clinical Depression
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,615 views

Jammed BART trains demand innovative thinking moving forward
By | 9 comments | 1,078 views