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Planning to shut off power to millions of people in California didn't stop a utility company's top brass from enjoying a few glasses of wine with some of their biggest clients.
Faulty equipment from California's largest utility company, PG&E, has sparked wildfires in the state over the last several years. To prevent another one, the company cut off power to more than 2 million people, starting Wednesday. But as hundreds of thousands of people in Northern California prepared for blackouts, PG&E’s execs were wining and dining their top natural gas customers at a lavish retreat in wine country earlier in the week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Just two years ago, the company’s electrical poles ignited a series of fires in Sonoma County, where the retreat was.
The company’s CEO apparently only heard about the confab on Monday and Tuesday from reporters, and he wasn’t pleased about it. “I want to apologize to every one of our customers,” Bill Johnson told the Chronicle. “Insensitive, inappropriate, tone-deaf are the terms I would use to describe this.” He said he would’ve stopped the get-together from happening if he'd known about it.
By Friday, more than 300,000 households and businesses still didn’t have power. California’s economy stands to lose an estimated $2.5 billion because of the blackouts. For the elderly and disabled who may need power to run their medical devices, the outages are far more than just an inconvenience — they can be deadly.
Despite the effort at fire prevention, blazes ignited in California this week. An 11-acre wildfire — under power transmission towers south of San Francisco that PG&E had not shut down — prompted firefighters to go door-to-door to inform residents of a voluntary evacuation order, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The company declared bankruptcy in January after a series of lawsuits related to their role in sparking fires in 2017 and 2018. For example, the electrical tower responsible for last year’s Camp Fire should have been replaced 25 years earlier, according to the New York Times. The fire killed 85 people, making it the deadliest wildfire in California’s history. The state of California allowed the company to charge its customers more so it could upgrade its grid, but it hasn’t fully done that yet.
The company’s natural gas operation was responsible for a fire too: In 2010, a gas line in San Bruno exploded and sparked a blaze that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.
Cover image: Gas customers fill up their extra gas cans at the Robinson Gas Station, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 in Nevada City, Calif. Millions of people were poised to lose electricity throughout northern and central California after Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced Tuesday it would shut off power in the largest preventive outage in state history to try to avert wildfires caused by faulty lines. (Elias Funez/The Union via AP)