PG&E CEO Peter Darbee stepping down

Guardian illustration by Devon Doss

Word's out that Peter Darbee, the Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation, is stepping down. Darbee's departure comes amid a federal investigation into the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion, which resulted in tragic loss of life, devastated an entire neighborhood, and served to highlight safety issues with the utility's vast network of underground gas transmission pipelines.

Longtime energy industry observer John Geesman, who blogged about PG&E's bid to eliminate community choice aggregation last year with the statewide ballot initiative Proposition 16, offered some rather interesting insights on Darbee in a series of posts last year. In one titled, "How Much of the Goldman Sach's Kool-Aid did PG&E's Peter Darbee Drink?", he reflected on Darbee's past experience on Wall Street: "Peter Darbee has been CEO of PG&E Corporation since 2005. He was an investment banker at Goldman Sachs from 1989 to 1994."

Darbee was one highly paid CEO. Geesman pointed out that he "massaged PG&E's internal system to produce a $10.6 million gusher for himself in 2009 -- that's 74 percent above the median for large utility CEOs measured in the Wall Street Journal's annual compensation survey."

Prop. 16 went down in flames, of course, after a majority of voters from PG&E's service territory rejected it (Darbee had this to say for himself in the aftermath). Yet that entire debacle was soon forgotten once the tragic Sept. 9, 2010 pipeline explosion occurred.

Michael Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, issued this statement soon after Darbee's resignation announcement: “The CPUC today learned of the resignation of Mr. Darbee from PG&E Corp. While obviously the company under his leadership has been responsible for several poor and consequential decisions, Mr. Darbee’s commitment to PG&E and its constituents is unquestioned. As PG&E’s Board of Directors recruits a successor, the CPUC urges the company to return to its roots by hiring the most technically competent person; someone with a long-standing history of performance in the energy industry.”

The Chronicle's reporting that Darbee's retirement package will total $34.7 million.

When former PG&E Senior Vice President Nancy McFadden resigned at the end of last year, she was awarded a severance payment of $1,040,400, plus an undisclosed payout in stocks. McFadden was the architect behind Prop. 16, and she wasn't unemployed for long. In January, she was appointed to serve as Gov. Jerry Brown's Executive Secretary for Legislation, Appointments and Policy in the Office of the Governor. That job pays $175,000 per year.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.