PG&E CEO Apologizes After Employees Went Wine Tasting Just Before California Blackouts: 'Insensitive, Inappropriate, Tone Deaf'

The CEO of PG&E has apologized after it was revealed several of its employees mingled with some of its top customers at a wine tasting event paid for by the company while hundreds of thousands of people in California were facing an unprecedented power outage.

As many as a dozen PG&E employees on the gas side of the utility company were found to have attended the event at the Silver Oak Winery in Sonoma County on Monday and Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The company was providing a dinner and wine tasting event for around 50 to 60 customers just as PG&E were preparing the major Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) across northern and central California on Wednesday which affected 800,000 people.

The move was put forward to protect residents from the risk of wildfires spreading following fears of extreme winds in the area.

The company previously warned that certain areas may have to put up with the outages for several days.

Speaking to The Chronicle, Bill Johnson, CEO of the utility's parent company PG&E Corp., apologized for the event, which he did not attend himself, admitting it was a "colossal mistake."

"I want to apologize to every one of our customers," Johnson said. "Insensitive, inappropriate, tone deaf are the terms I would use to describe this."

As noted by The Chronicle, the winery in question is located in Sonoma County, an area which was hit by major wildfires in 2017, the cause of which were blamed on PG&E power poles igniting.

Johnson has also publicly apologized for the company's handling of the PSPS as well as the technical problems such as its website repeatedly crashing as people attempted to find out more information.

"We faced a choice between hardship on everyone or safety and we chose safety," Johnson said during a press conference at PG&E's San Francisco headquarters on Thursday, reports CBS San Francisco. "And I do apologize for the hardship this has caused, but I think we made the right call on safety."

Johnson added: "Our website crashed several times. Our maps are inconsistent and maybe incorrect. Our call centers were overloaded. To put it simply, we were not adequately prepared to support the operational event."

The shutdown was criticized by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who described the "unacceptable" shutdown as a result of "greed and neglect" by PG&E.

Mark Toney, executive director of consumer watchdog group Utility Reform Network, also criticized the strategy of shutting off power to 800,000 people as "not surgical by any stretch."

"It's like, they'll do whatever they feel like. And in this case it was a total overreaction. The wind was nowhere close to what was predicted," he told the Los Angeles Times.

In their latest update, PG&E said that more than 426,000 customers have since had their power restored in California following the mass PSPS.

"As the weather has improved, an 'all-clear' signal was given on Thursday afternoon indicating the weather had subsided to the point where safety inspections, repair and restoration efforts were able to begin in many areas," the company said in a statement.

Traffic lights in the Sonoma area are out due to power outages on October 10, 2019 in Sonoma, California. PG&E has apologized after it was found their employees attended a at wine tasting event as 800,000 customers people in California were facing a major planned power outage. Ezra Shaw/Getty