Pacific Gas & Electric CEO Bill Johnson has issued a public mea culpa after a very bad week in which employees of California’s largest utility have been cursed at and attacked, its vehicles fired upon and offices egged.
“I want to be clear, the buck stops with me on these events,” Johnson told reporters Thursday after the utility’s highly unpopular decision to intentionally cut off electricity for hundreds of thousands of customers in Northern California in an attempt to avoid sparking wildfires.
“I do apologize for the hardship but I think we made the right call on safety,” said Johnson, who took over as CEO in May after heading the Tennessee Valley Authority.
For many long-suffering utility customers, the outages are the latest indignity imposed on them by a company that has been criticized for the role its equipment played in a series of catastrophic blazes across California — including the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history.
Some angry customers have taken out their frustrations on utility employees.
PG&E’s Oroville office had eggs hurled at it, the company said Wednesday. The night before, someone fired a bullet into a PG&E vehicle, according to the California Highway Patrol.
“If you’re upset about this event, do not take it out on those folks. We have thousands of men and women, literally thousands, out there right now working tirelessly to restore power, including many who actually lost power themselves,” Johnson said.
“We’ve had employees shot at, punched, used profanity, cursed (at), all kinds of bad things. These people are here to help you. They’re working for your safety. They’re bringing the lights back on and they actually live in your communities.”
Even California Gov. Gavin Newsom has blasted the utility over the outages, blaming the action on years of neglect and putting profits ahead of customers.
“This is not … a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades,” Newsom said. “Neglect, a desire to advance not public safety but profits.”
The embattled utility intentionally cut power to almost 800,000 customers in Northern California on Wednesday to prevent wildfires caused by high winds downing live power equipment. While the company has since restored power for many affected areas, more than 300,000 remain without electricity.
“I’m didn’t come here to deal with the past. I came here to help improve the future,” Johnson said. “I might have some slight disagreements with the governor but I’m looking forward and I’m just trying to make this better.”