PG&E Corp. has been in the news a lot lately with the latest California wildfires now sending the utility company to bankruptcy court. But that isn’t stopping its former CEO, Geisha Williams, from walking away with millions of dollars in severance pay.
Williams’ departure was announced Sunday just before the company said it would notify its employees that it is likely to file for bankruptcy protection in the next few weeks, reportedly on Jan. 29 after a 15-day waiting period required by law comes to an end.
During Williams’ tenure, the utility company, based in San Francisco, amassed more than $30 billion in liabilities from California wildfires, according to analyst estimates reported by Bloomberg.
PG&E said Monday that Williams will receive severance. That payment will likely be $2.36 million to $4.46 million, depending on how her departure is categorized, according to the firm’s most recent proxy statement. She also has $3.1 million of pension benefits that may be in flux if the firm enters bankruptcy court. She was paid $8.6 million in 2017, mostly consisting of stock awards, the filing shows. Her unvested stock options and restricted shares will likely be wiped out if the firm enters Chapter 11.
Williams knew the risks that she faced because of wildfires liabilities. At an energy conference last year in Houston she said — jokingly — that if she failed to change a state law on wildfires, “I won’t be here in two years.”
PG&E also could face criminal charges for murder after last year’s deadly Camp Fire that killed 86 people, destroyed 14,000 homes, 500 business and 4,300 other buildings.
The fire is believed to have started after a PG&E power line came into contact with nearby trees. The company reported an outage on a transmission line in the area where the fire started, about 15 minutes before it began.
In 2017, PG&E also took the blame for other wildfires that caused $10 billion in damages and 44 deaths. Investigators say PG&E is at fault for violating codes regarding brush cleanup and clearance near its power lines.
Shares of PG&E plunged as much as 48 percent by lunch time on the East Coast on Monday.