California utility PG&E replaces CEO amid bankruptcy worries

PG&E may notify its employees this week of potential bankruptcy

California's largest investor-owned utility company, said Monday that it will file for Chapter 11 by January 29 and warned that it could be on the hook for as much as US$30-billion in costs related to wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

Companies negotiate debtor-in-possession loans, often with existing lenders, when they are seriously considering bankruptcy protection so they can continue operations while working through court proceedings.

We believe a court-supervised process under Chapter 11 will best enable PG&E to resolve its potential liabilities in an orderly, fair and expeditious fashion.

PG&E's regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, began in late December to investigate whether the company should make significant structural changes, including becoming owned by the state or splitting up its businesses. The company said it would look to hire a new chief executive with "extensive operational and safety expertise".

The San Francisco Chronicle reports Sunday that under a new state law, PG&E must tell its employees at least 15 days before a change of control in the company - including a bankruptcy filing. One, the Camp Fire, swept through the mountain community of Paradise and killed at least 86 people, the deadliest and most destructive blaze in state history.

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The move will allow Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.to hold off creditors and continue operating while it tries to put its finances in order.

The cause of the worst 2017 wildfire - the Tubbs Fire, which killed 24 people and leveled neighborhoods in and around Santa Rosa - is still under investigation.

It said the bankruptcy filing, which saw shares plunge 48 percent on Monday, should not affect electric or natural gas service to its 16 million customers in California. PG&E also anticipates being able to continue its rebuilding and restoration efforts for the victims of the California wildfires of 2017 and 2018.

PG&E CEO Geisha Williams stepped down from her position on Sunday.

In total, the California Insurance Department estimated the Camp Fire and two other wildfires past year destroyed 19,000 homes and businesses in the state.

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PG&E faces widespread lawsuits from that fire and one in 2017.

PG&E reported an equipment malfunction at the time and location where the Camp Fire started on November 8.

Shares of PG&E fell as much as 52 per cent in pre-market trading.

"PG&E provides gas and electric service to 16 million Californians", he said in the statement.

Pacific Gas and Electric said last month it determined weather conditions were no longer unsafe enough to warrant a massive power shut off on November 8 - a decision that came as a massive fire was tearing through a Northern California town.

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"Following a comprehensive review with the assistance of our outside advisors, the PG&E Board and management team have determined that initiating a Chapter 11 reorganization for both the Utility and PG&E Corporation represents the only viable option to address the Company's responsibilities to its stakeholders", said Richard C. Kelly, chair of the board of directors at PG&E.

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