Johnson is ending a run leading the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation's largest publicly owned utility, which serves parts of seven southeastern states.
PG&E's "board refreshment" comes as it faces intense scrutiny for the role its equipment may have played in starting a number of devastating California wildfires and for the utility's overall approach to safety. Saying it couldn't afford tens of billions of dollars in potential wildfire liability costs, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January. Shortly before the announcement, its CEO, Geisha Williams, stepped down.
"We have heard the calls for change and have taken action today to ensure that PG&E has the right leadership to bring about real and dynamic change that reinforces our commitment to safety, continuous improvement and operational excellence," the board said in a statement.
Johnson is also no stranger to controversy. He announced his upcoming retirement from the TVA in November, about a week after a federal jury found that a TVA contractor, Jacobs Engineering Group, had endangered workers during a toxic coal ash cleanup in Kingston, Tennessee.
More than 40 workers involved in that cleanup died and hundreds more were sickened. Jurors found that Jacobs is liable for exposing workers to toxic dust in the cleanup.
Johnson was not head of the TVA at the time of the December 2008 spill — but much of the cleanup took place on his watch.
In its statement, PG&E said the new directors would join as soon as an emergency in-person board meeting was held, at which point the remaining directors are expected to step down. All the members of the board will stand for election at the annual shareholders meeting being held in San Francisco on May 21. PG&E did not reply to KQED's request for information regarding when that meeting would be held.
Gov. Gavin Newsom publicly criticized PG&E last week, saying its leaders were planning to put hedge fund financiers and people with little to no California experience on its new board.
His spokesman, Nathan Click, said some changes had been made in the slate announced Wednesday, but the governor still had concerns.
"While changes were made in the last few days to augment the safety and government expertise on the board, this proposed board still raises concerns — particularly the large representation of Wall Street interests and most board nominees' lack of relevant California experience," Click said in an emailed statement.
California plans to hold the utility "to the highest standards," he said.
The board members include several people with energy and utility expertise as well as people with experience in investment management and bankruptcy law.
KQED's Lily Jamali contributed to this report.