By Hudson Sangree
As part of its continued leadership shakeup, PG&E Corp. said Thursday that former FERC Commissioner Nora Mead Brownell would be its new board chair and that Jeffrey Bleich, a veteran lawyer and former U.S. ambassador, would chair its utility subsidiary Pacific Gas and Electric.
“We are focused on taking additional actions to bring about real and dynamic change that reinforces our commitment to safety and continuous improvement,” PG&E said in a news release. “The appointments of Nora Mead Brownell and Jeffrey Bleich, two respected leaders with a deep understanding of the California and federal regulatory environments, underscore our commitment to engage with our stakeholders to address the state’s evolving energy challenges.”
The news came a week after PG&E announced that a “refreshed” board of 13 directors, to be approved at the next board meeting, would include Brownell, Bleich and eight other new members, along with three holdovers from the current roster. The company also said Bill Johnson, the outgoing head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, would be its new CEO starting May 1. (See PG&E Names New CEO, Board Members.)
The selections were a response to calls from California’s political leaders and utility regulators for greater change at PG&E, which has been blamed for more than 90 deaths from a series of disasters in the past decade, including catastrophic wildfires and a gas pipeline explosion. Critics have said the company’s leadership was skewed toward Wall Street and lacked safety and operations expertise.
PG&E Corp. and Pacific Gas and Electric filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in January, citing the potential for billions of dollars in fire liability.
Some officials, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, said the newly announced board represents only minor improvement. BlueMountain Capital, a New York-based investment firm, has put together its own slate of candidates that includes former California state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides.
Brownell helped oversee the transition of NERC to FERC oversight during her term (2001-2006). She later co-founded energy consulting firm ESPY Energy Solutions and has served on the boards of directors of National Grid and Spectra Energy Partners and the advisory board of Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners. She was president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners during her time as a member of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.
Bleich is a former partner at the global law firm Dentons and a leader of its diplomatic consulting group, PG&E said. He previously served as special counsel to President Barack Obama and president of the California State Bar.
Kristine Schmidt, a member of the Energy Imbalance Market Governing Body who was an aide to Brownell at FERC, was also named as a new PG&E board member. Schmidt is president of Swan Consulting Services.
Brownell did not respond to requests for comment. PG&E has said it may make its new leaders available for interviews after they are “onboarded.”