Fourteen months after leaving the Tennessee Valley Authority to head America's biggest electric utility in California, Bill Johnson announced Wednesday he will step down as CEO of Pacific Gas & Electric by June 30.
The 66-year-old utility executive, who headed TVA for six years before moving to PG&E in late 2018, is retiring under pressure to help the state of Calfornia work to bring a new leadership team to the bankrupt utility.
Johnson, who announced he was retiring from TVA in November 2019, was hired in April 2019 to help rescue PG&E from a financial mess caused by a history of negligence and to change a corporate culture following the company's bankruptcy filing after deadly wildfires it helped cause in 2017 and 2018.
"As we look to PG&E's next chapter, this great company should be led by someone who has the time and career trajectory ahead of them to ensure that it fulfills its promise to re-imagine itself as a new utility and deliver the safe and reliable service that its customers and communities expect and deserve," Johnson said in a statement.
Both California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the head of PG&E's chief regulator have pressured the company to oust its entire 14-member board of directors, including Johnson.
Johnson's retirement is timed to coincide with the deadline for PG&E to wrap up its bankruptcy case. The deal includes $25.5 billion to pay for Northern California wildfires that killed nearly 130 people and destroyed more than 25,000 buildings.
As part of the deal, PG&E had agreed only to replace some board members, but gave no sign it planned to ask Johnson to step aside so soon after joining PG&E.
Priorities for the next CEO include installing about $40 billion in badly needed equipment upgrades and managing its deliberate blackouts during wildfire season to reduce the the chances its equipment ignites more fires.
Once Johnson steps down, he will be temporarily replaced by a former AT&E executive, Bill Smith, who joined PG&E's board four months ago. PG&E gave no timeline for how long Smith will serve as interim CEO.