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Facing upheaval, PG&E searches for new directors

Facing billions of dollars in potential wildfire liabilities, PG&E Corp. announced it is "assessing PG&E's operations, finances, management, structure, and governance" and is searching for new directors for both the holding company and its utility subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to enhance the companies' expertise in safety and other "critical areas."

The corporation said it is "reviewing structural options to best position PG&E to implement necessary changes while meeting customer and operational needs." It is also considering selling off its gas utility business this spring, National Public Radio reported Jan. 4. The potential sale of Pacific Gas and Electric's gas division, dubbed "Project Falcon" inside the company, would be executed to help cover extensive wildfire damage costs, NPR reported, but PG&E Corp. has not confirmed the sale plans.

PG&E's electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure has been tied to multiple wildfires, including the so-called Wine Country fires of October 2017, and the utility is subject to investigation in the most destructive fire in California history, the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people and destroyed nearly 15,000 residences and other structures.

The Jan. 4 announcement comes on the heels of the California Public Utilities Commission's proposal to revamp the companies' corporate structure as the PUC probes the safety culture of both companies in the wake of the wildfires and the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, in addition to recent allegations that company employees falsified thousands of gas safety records.

Both PG&E Corp. and its subsidiary utility have boards of directors, but for now they comprise the same people. Former Pacific Gas and Electric President and COO Nick Stavropoulos was on the utility's board only, but he retired in September 2018 and was replaced with a PG&E Corp. board member.

PG&E Corp. said it is making changes to reinforce the company's commitment to safety and operational effectiveness. The board is working with a search firm to find new directors and will interview several candidates.

While the corporation said it is looking to "add fresh perspectives" to augment existing expertise among the directors, it has not said whether it intends to increase or maintain the number of women on the boards. PG&E Corp's board currently has three women, including company CEO and President Geisha Williams. Under a law passed in 2018, all California corporations must have at least one female director by the end of 2019 and at least three women on the board by the end of 2021.

A committee of PG&E Corp. board members will engage independent experts to advise on best practices in wildfire safety. The committee is also assessing additional operational changes proposed by management to enhance safety as PG&E prepares for the 2019 wildfire season.