Business & Real Estate

SMUD CEO Arlen Orchard to retire next year after almost 30 years with the utility

Arlen Orchard will be stepping down as Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s CEO in 2020 after nearly 30 years with the company.

In a news release, SMUD said Orchard plans to retire in August next year after working his way up to chief executive from his original assignment as a staff attorney.

The graduate of University of California, Davis, joined SMUD in 1990 and was made the utility’s general counsel in 2003 before he was promoted to general manager and CEO in 2014.

“I’ve been very privileged to serve our community for three decades,” Orchard said in a prepared statement. “We have made some bold changes and reset priorities which have informed our investment and operational decisions for the next several years, and we are starting to see dividends with this new, more holistic approach to sustainability, economic development and community engagement. We have a strong electric company that is focused on the needs of the customer, the community and the company’s role in our region.”

As Northern California’s main electricity provider Pacific Gas and Electric Co. came under fire for causing wildfires and preemptively shutting off power to thousands during windstorms, SMUD has managed to keep the lights on in Sacramento County.

SMUD has also boasted of its comparatively low rates during Orchard’s tenure while still maintaining reliable performance. SMUD figures suggest its services cost 35 percent less than PG&E’s rates on average.

Orchard, however, has come under fire for his salary of $579,391, which is higher than any other municipal utility executive in California, while some SMUD line workers and forepersons make more than $200,000 per year.

“Arlen is a dynamic and forward-thinking executive and has provided excellent leadership in his tenure as SMUD’s chief executive,” SMUD board president Dave Tamayo said in a prepared statement. “Finding someone to fill his shoes will be a huge undertaking, and the board of directors will engage in a very comprehensive and deliberative process to select SMUD’s next CEO.

“Arlen’s vision has transformed SMUD so that it is not only a great community-owned utility, but also a trusted partner for enhancing the quality of life of our region. His leadership will certainly be missed.”

Vincent Moleski covers business and breaking news for The Bee and is a graduate student in literature at Sacramento State. He was born and raised in Sacramento and previously wrote for the university’s student newspaper, the State Hornet.