CEO Bill Johnson entered guilty pleas on behalf of the company in Butte County Superior Court, admitting that PG&E’s crumbling electrical grid sparked what was dubbed the Camp Fire.
“Our equipment started that fire,” said Johnson, apologizing directly to the victims’ families. “PG&E will never forget the Camp Fire and all that it took away from the region.”
Prosecutors brought 84 charges of involuntary manslaughter against PG&E because they weren’t confident they could prove the company’s culpability in one of the deaths.
In a dramatic court hearing, Judge Michael Deems read the name of each victim aloud, and photos of the deceased were displayed on a screen as Johnson pleaded guilty.
Johnson also pleaded guilty to a single felony count of unlawfully starting a fire.
Deems will formally hand down his sentence on Thursday or Friday.
While jail time isn’t on the table, PG&E has agreed to pay the maximum $3.5 million fine for its crimes, plus another $500,000 to defray costs of the investigation.
The nation’s largest utility company won’t, however, be placed on criminal probation — which it’s already under for a 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, Calif., which killed eight people.
Johnson will resign as CEO on June 30 — the same day by which a judge will rule on whether to accept or reject PG&E’s plan to get out of bankruptcy.
The company declared bankruptcy last year as part of a plan to pay $25.5 billion in settlements for the Camp Fire and other blazes that torched the state in 2017.
Of that sum, $13.5 billion has been earmarked for the families of victims.
Under the terms of PG&E’s deal with Golden State power regulators, 11 of the company’s 14 board members will be replaced.
Meanwhile, PG&E has vowed to take steps to prevent future wildfires, including pruning trees near its power lines and replacing aging equipment before a deadly malfunction.
With Post wires