Fresh out of bankruptcy reorganization, PG&E Corp. and combination utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) expect to have a new executive team in place by the end of this year, management said Thursday.

PGE

Interim CEO Bill Smith discussed the restructuring process and responses to recent wildfires in Northern California during a 3Q2020 earnings conference call.

The company turned a profit with net income of $83 million (4 cents/share) compared with a year-ago loss of $1.6 billion (minus $3.06).

With more than three million of the state’s four million-plus acres of wildfires so far this year in PG&E’s territory, “it has been an historic and very challenging wildfire season for our customers,” said Smith. 

The fires are raging as the San Francisco-based utility is focused on its court-approved exit from Chapter 11.

“We remain on track to name a new CEO and president for the utility by the end of this year,” said Smith. There is also a national search for a new financial chief.  He said the company already has added senior executives for safety, risk, and information technology. The executive “additions reflect our commitment to change with a focus on safety and risk.”

Senior executives being sought are to have “energy experience and a track record regarding safety.”

Smith also highlighted advances in pipeline safety, noting centers developed three years ago after an evaluation of the operations. The Center for Gas Safety tests new technologies, and Gas Safety Academy offers training for simulated gas emergencies.

Separately, Smith noted that PG&E has filed replies regarding the recent Zogg Fire in Northern California. U.S. District Judge William Alsup is overseeing the outcome of the utility’s 2016 criminal conviction for the deadly 2010 San Bruno gas transmission pipeline failure and explosion. 

Alsup asked PG&E by last Monday to explain its possible role in igniting the Zogg blaze. The utility has not indicated anything definitive. However, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, aka CalFire, has pieces of utility equipment suspected of causing the fire, which has spread across more than 56,000 acres.

PG&E has acknowledged that wildfire mitigation could be improved, but Smith said there are  disagreements with some of the court’s description of the utility’s efforts. PG&E, for example, has made significant progress in its wildfire mitigation plans since last year, he said.

PG&E spokesperson James Noonan said the “the devastation caused by the Zogg Fire, which resulted in the loss of four lives and destroyed many homes, shows we must take a leading role in preventing wildfires. While we are cooperating fully with CalFire, we do not have access to the equipment that was taken by CalFire investigators nor do we know how this equipment may factor into its investigation. 

“As a result, we do not know what role, if any, our equipment may have played. Like the court, we want to better understand the events that led to this incident. As this historic wildfire season continues to unfold, we remain focused on our mission to safely deliver power to the customers and communities we serve.”