Battered PG&E Names Outsider as New CEO

Searching to regain the public’s trust after a series of blunders, PG&E on Monday named an outsider for the first time in its history as its new CEO—a Midwest energy executive who will attempt to calm a firestorm of controversy that has engulfed the utility for the past year.

Searching to regain the public’s trust after a series of blunders, PG&E on Monday named an outsider for the first time in its history as its new CEO—a Midwest energy executive who will attempt to calm a firestorm of controversy that has engulfed the utility for the past year.

Anthony Earley will take over the helm of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Sept. 13, four days after the anniversary of the San Bruno pipeline explosion. Former CEO Peter Darbee retired in April amid several controversies.

In a statement released by the utility late Monday, Earley alluded to the great obstacles he’s sure to face.

"PG&E has a proud legacy," Earley, 62, said in the statement. "It’s a great privilege to help an iconic company recover from its recent challenges and reclaim its standing as the utility others admire and aspire to follow."

Earley led DTE Energy—which provides power to 3.3 million customers in Michigan through its Detroit Edison and MichCon utilities—from 1998 through September, when he stepped down as CEO and became executive chairman.

Earley is PG&E’s first CEO to be hired from outside the company in its 106-year history. And the job won’t be easy.

The San Bruno disaster prompted safety fears, lawsuits, state and federal investigations and concerns about its record keeping. The final report on the cause of the blast is expected soon, and it could leave PG&E on the hook for hundreds of millions

of dollars.

The utility was already reeling from its controversial SmartMeter program and its failed ballot measure, Proposition 16, in which the company spent $46 million in an attempt to make it more difficult for cities to launch their own utilities.

"He’s coming into a company where trust is at an all-time low,” said Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for TURN, the consumer advocacy group critical of PG&E.”It’s like they’ve screwed up everything they’ve touched. Certainly, he’s got an uphill climb to bring the company out of the dump."

But PG&E says Earley has been down this road before.

The largest blackout in U.S. history, which began in Ohio in 2003, triggered massive outages across Michigan and elsewhere. Michigan’s governor at the time, Jennifer Granholm, said in the PG&E release that Earley was a "calming influence" who was "open, honest and accountable at a very difficult time."

"Tony is a highly respected and proven CEO who will provide fresh eyes and strong leadership as we focus on public safety and operations excellence," said PG&E’s interim leader, Lee Cox. "We looked across the industry and found the person best qualified to help us win back public confidence."

Earley will oversee a corporation based in San Francisco that has 20,000 employees and provides power to 15 million people from Eureka to Bakersfield.

He joined DTE as chief operating officer in 1994. Originally a lawyer at an energy and environmental firm, he became an executive at the Long Island Lighting Co. in 1985.

He earned nearly $8.5 million in total compensation for DTE last year, according to Forbes. PG&E said it would not disclose his new pay at the California utility until Tuesday.

With bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from the University of Notre Dame, he also served in the Navy’s nuclear submarine program. He has a seat on the board for the Ford Motor Co.