PG&E CEO addresses customers who can’t restock food spoiled during outage

PG&E President and CEO Bill Johnson is coming under intense criticism, not only for the blackouts, but how he addressed people who can’t afford to replace food that spoiled during the shutoffs. In an exchange with the I-Team on Thursday night, Johnson suggested people with spoiled food visit food banks to replace it. At the final news conference for this round of blackouts, PG&E showed video of downed power lines in several counties and said each of them could have sparked a wildfire, had the company not turned off the power. PG&E also had a warning for homeowners, especially those returning after being evacuated.

PG&E spokesperson Keith Stephens sent a warning to customers about food that may still be in their refrigerator.

“Highly advise people dispose of all food in their refrigerators, anything that’s perishable, don’t want anybody getting ill,” he said.

I asked Johnson about the strain these blackouts put on many families.

Noyes: “What do you say to people who just can’t afford to restock their fridges and are losing all this food they’ve had in their households after these shut offs?”

Johnson: “These events can be hard on people, really hard on people, particularly people who have struggles anyways and there are community-based things you can do, food banks, these kind of things. But for us, you know the main thing is we didn’t cause any fires, we didn’t, for these people we didn’t burn down any houses, the Kincade fire is still under investigation, I got that, but one of the things we did was give them the opportunity to actually refill their refrigerator ’cause their house is still there.”

When I posted that exchange on social media, the response was fast and angry. They included:

“‘At least we didn’t burn your house down’ is not a good look in an argument.”

“This is what arrogance looks like.”

“Your CEO should be fired for this tone-deaf statement.”

“He has a base salary of $2.5 million and this answers sounds exactly like it. I can’t stand this company.”

I asked state Senator Jerry Hill, a long-time critic of PG&E, for his reaction to Johnson’s comments.

“To think that we should be grateful that PG&E because of their negligence and their mismanagement didn’t burn our house down,” he said. “That’s the most outrageous, insensitive, tone deaf thing I’ve ever heard.”

Ratepayer advocate Mindy Spatt with the The Utility Reform Network, TURN, was also surprised.

“It is absolutely ridiculous for the CEO of PG&E to stand there and act as if the company is simply an innocent victim of the weather,” said Spatt.

Even the San Francisco/Marin Food Bank’s Executive Director, Paul Ash, was caught off guard by the suggestion that food banks pick up the slack for PG&E’s planned power outage.

“Our major role is to feed low income people,” he said. “And when we get pulled away from that to kind of move into disaster mode, that takes away form that effort. So I was sorry to hear him think of food banks as a way to refill refrigerators after a fire, that’s not quite the spirit we hope to have.”