TVA Chief Is Front-Runner for Bankrupt PG&E's CEO Job

(Bloomberg) -- The person to lead California energy giant PG&E Corp. out of the biggest utility bankruptcy in U.S. history may be Bill Johnson, the outgoing chief of the federally operated power agency Tennessee Valley Authority.

Johnson is PG&E’s top pick for chief executive officer, people familiar with the situation said, while cautioning that the company hasn’t made a final decision and is still discussing the potential hire. The utility is also close to picking new directors for its board, they said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

PG&E has been searching for a new chief since Geisha Williams resigned in January, just two weeks before the California utility giant filed for bankruptcy to deal with an estimated $30 billion in liabilities from wildfires that its equipment may have ignited. State officials and PG&E investors alike have been pressing the company for a management overhaul.

PG&E declined to comment. Johnson, who announced his retirement from TVA in November, wasn’t immediately available for comment. He is expected to step down to make way for a new CEO at TVA who begins in April. TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said the agency wasn’t aware of Johnson’s plans after his departure.

CEO for a Day

Johnson may be best known as the man who served as CEO of North Carolina power giant Duke Energy Corp. for less than a day. He had been appointed as part of the company’s $17.8 billion takeover of Progress Energy in 2012 but was replaced eight hours later with James Rogers, the former CEO of Duke who had been slated to become executive chairman. Johnson was hired that same year to his post at TVA, a federal agency that supplies electricity to power companies serving 10 million people in the Southeast.

TVA Chief Is Front-Runner for Bankrupt PG&E's CEO Job

PG&E is also nearing an agreement with investors represented by law firm Jones Day that could see the company’s board revamped in coming weeks, people familiar with the matter said. The investors hold about 40 percent of PG&E’s stock and have discussed nominating at least nine directors, they said.

The new board probably won’t include candidates from a competing slate proposed by activist investor BlueMountain Capital Management LLC, said the people. PG&E and Jones Day may announce an agreement by next week, they said, while cautioning that talks are ongoing and may still fall apart.

Representatives for Jones Day didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. BlueMountain declined to comment.

Power Struggle

The investors represented by Jones Day and BlueMountain have been wrangling for control of the utility’s leadership for weeks. BlueMountain nominated 13 directors, including former California treasurer Phil Angelides, National Transportation Safety Board ex-chairman Christopher Hart and Jeff Ubben, the CEO of activist investor ValueAct Capital Management.

Earlier Tuesday, PG&E pushed back for the fourth time the deadline for nominating new directors, giving shareholders until March 19 to propose candidates.

California’s chief utility regulator, Michael Picker, told interim PG&E CEO John Simon in a phone conversation Monday that the company will have to explain to the state why specific board members were selected. Picker said in a filing that he had called the company to “emphasize the critical importance” that PG&E be led by people who can ensure it’s “is operated safely and can manage the dynamic risks posed by climate change.”

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