PG&E's top executive resigns following 'challenging year'

SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.'s top executive is stepping down with a $35 million retirement package following a "challenging year" that included a gas pipeline explosion in a San Francisco suburb that killed eight and destroyed 38 homes, the company announced Thursday.

Chairman, chief executive and President Peter Darbee will retire on April 30, PG&E said in a statement.

Lee Cox, a former president and CEO of AirTouch Cellular and a member of PG&E's board since 1996, will serve as interim chairman, CEO and president, the San Francisco-based energy company said. A new permanent chief will be announced in the weeks ahead, as federal and state investigations into the blast continue.

Darbee spent the first half of his career in the financial services industry before joining PG&E more than a decade ago, and now plans to devote himself to nonprofit work, said Brian Hertzog, a spokesman for the parent company's utility division, PG&E Co. Darbee, 58, will leave with a $35 million retirement package, but the value of the executive's stock holdings could fluctuate depending on future market circumstances, he added.

"Going forward, we have to regain the confidence that in some cases we've lost over the past year from some of our customers, regulators and others," Hertzog said. "Mr. Darbee thinks new leadership is the best way to do that."

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