Hedge fund BlueMountain nominates Jeff Ubben and 12 others to PG&E

BlueMountain Capital, a hedge fund with a significant stake in embattled California utility PG&E, announced Friday that it has nominated 13 candidates for election to the company’s board.

The long list of nominees included several longtime executives of the utility and energy industries that the hedge fund hopes will bring to the company “the skills, experience, and commitment that [it] needs.” The list also included Jeffrey Ubben, the founder and CEO of activist firm ValueAct.

Some activists, like Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman, like to take their cases to the media to agitate for change, but ValueAct bills itself as a friendly advisor. PG&E shareholders will vote for directors at the company’s annual meeting on May 21, 2019. Last year, they elected 11 directors to the board.

PG&E “must work collaboratively with the public sector, and make safety, risk management, governance, accountability, and transparency its top priorities,” BlueMountain said. “We believe the company also needs experienced utility executives who will lead the development of a new strategic vision and ensure disciplined execution.

PG&E stock rallied more than 3.5 percent Friday following BlueMountain’s announcement. Shares remain down more than 60 percent over the last six months. BlueMountain owned about 8 million (about 1.55 percent) of PG&E shares at the end of 2018, up from their 0.8 percent stake at the end of September.

“PG&E appreciates the constructive dialogue that it has had with shareholders and other stakeholders throughout this process,” PG&E said in a press release. PG&E expects to continue discussions with shareholders, including BlueMountain, and other stakeholders regarding the appropriate composition of the Board.”

The nomination of 13 new directors comes as the state’s largest utility faces mounting financial turmoil for its role in a number of destructive wildfires over the past two years. Though a final determination hasn’t been made yet, PG&E said Thursday that it believes it’s “probable” that the utility’s equipment will be found to be the source of the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in California’s history.

That fire resulted in 86 civilian deaths and the destruction of 13,972 residences, according to California’s government.

Based on the early findings of the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, the company said it is including a $10.5 billion pretax charge related to third-party claims in connection with the 2018 Camp Fire in its full-year and fourth-quarter 2018 financial results.

“The company is facing extraordinary challenges relating to the 2018 Camp Fire and 2017 Northern California wildfires,” the company said in a release. “Management has concluded that these circumstances raise substantial doubt about PG&E Corporation’s and the Utility’s ability to continue as going concerns.”

The power provider filed for bankruptcy in January and asked the court to approve a $5.5 billion debtor-in-possession financing, it said in a statement. Expected costs for the company tally up to as much as $30 billion, beyond what the company says it’s able to manage.

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