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Zachary Oliphant:

Well, welcome, everybody back to The Integrity Podcast. We’re doing something a little bit different. We’re actually live here at TS DOST 2022. I have a great guest today, Blake Tucker with AEP. It’s going to be a fantastic conversation, and really look forward to it.

Speaker 2:

Integrity is everything. Our way of life in this country rises and falls on the integrity of our leaders and the integrity of our infrastructure. Because integrity impacts everything, this is The Integrity Podcast, powered by EXO, hosted by Zachary Oliphant.

Zachary Oliphant:

Well, guys, welcome. What a fantastic day, get a chance to interview Blake Tucker. And let me just introduce Blake, first and foremost. Blake’s a staff engineer with American Electric Power. He graduated with a BSEE from Oklahoma State University. Blake is a registered PE in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. He has 36 years in the electric utility industry in various roles. He’s been a staff engineer in the transmission line standards department for the last eight years. He’s also a member of NESC and has participated in the NESC 2012, 2017, and 2022 code cycles on subcommittee four. And he’s also a member of the NESC interpretation subcommittee. Blake is also a member of NATF lines corps team and I Triple E.

That’s a lot, Blake. Obviously, that comes with all of your experience. And welcome, welcome to our podcast. Should be a great conversation to get to know you a little bit more, get to hear your story. And most of the folks that we bring on, we really like to just start with an origin story. What really got you into engineering? What was your path to where you are today? So maybe we can start with that.

Blake Tucker:

Sure. So it was grew up in a rural town in Oklahoma, pretty small school. We didn’t have guidance counselors, and nobody really even thought about that. It was just in a science class one day talking to somebody. He asked me what I was going to do. And I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “Well, you should try engineering.” I said, “Okay. I like science and math.” So I got into engineering, and then the summers, I was working at a power plant. Really taught me that I like the utility business as a whole, but I didn’t like power generation. In the summer in a coal plant, everything’s hot, dirty, dangerous, so that wasn’t the environment I wanted, but I did like the utility business. And so kind of through that and through engineering, sort of taking power classes, and just that’s the way it worked out.

Zachary Oliphant:

Awesome. Well, tell me the story about you working at a power plant at a young age. That’s got to be an interesting experience being a young college guy and working with some of those guys who’ve probably been doing that for a long time.

Blake Tucker:

So the first two years I was on the yard crew. We did a lot of mowing, a lot of weeding. And then the second two years, I was in the electrician shop, and that was pretty interesting. Of course, in the summer, it’s a base load plant, so you tiptoe around those generators because you don’t want to do anything to shut them off. We just happened to be in the control room one day, and somebody was out in one of the substations putting a relay in or something, and jiggled one of the relays, tripped the breaker, so tripped all the load off of one of the turbines.

Zachary Oliphant:

Oh, wow.

Blake Tucker:

And if you’ve never been in the control room when that kind of … Every enunciator, every alarm, everything was going off. People were running around and we were just trying to stand there in the corner.

Zachary Oliphant:

Fly on the wall.

Blake Tucker:

It was real interesting though.

Zachary Oliphant:

So they have this alarm go off. Obviously, it’s an issue for them. Kind of walk me through that experience as you’re sitting there watching everybody try to attack and solve that problem.

Blake Tucker:

Part of it was that the generator’s spinning and you got all the energy going to it. Now all of a sudden, the load’s gone, so the generator over spins, so those alarms go, just the alarms from losing the load. And then there’s a steam pop out valve really for that whole turbine system that … The turbine deck was right outside the control room. And just watching them do that whole scramble around and get it under control. And then to get it back, we stayed there the whole time to watch them get it back online, and how they had to match the speed and get it close to being synchronous before they closed the breaker.

I always thought, well, surely we’ve got something more technologically advanced than … But it was a light bulb. It was a light bulb and a synchroscope on the wall. And we’d done that in lab and kind of knew the theory behind it, but to see them actually do that in real production was really surprising.

Zachary Oliphant:

That’s really cool, try to get it all balanced and get everything back online. And that’s a lot of what people don’t understand just how complicated the grid is-

Blake Tucker:

Absolutely.

Zachary Oliphant:

When it comes to the generation and balancing with the transmission and the consumption of power. So walk me through, Blake, now you’ve worked in a power plant. You’re introduced to the utility business. Kind of what is the next step for you?

Blake Tucker:

So I just said I graduated in 1986, went to work for a small company called Texas-New Mexico Power in Central Texas. They’re a small enough company that they didn’t have transmission engineers and substation engineers. You were the engineer, and so you got to do all kinds of things. My first exposure really to transmission was I think within the first year of being out of school. My boss says, “We’re building 30 miles of 130 wood H frame, go be the inspector on it.” I said, “Huh?” I got an electrical degree and just [inaudible 00:05:33], I didn’t know anything. But it was a great, great learning experience to be out there, just to see the whole process and how that happened. It really gave me the bug that drove me later on to get to engineering.

I spent 10 years at TNP, and like I said, they don’t have transmission engineers, so I was really exposed to a lot of different areas, which is really good. But always, there was that transmission bug that kind of kept drawing me back. And in fact, after that was done, the following year we decided we designed our own. My boss says, “You can do it.” Well, no computers then, no PLS-CADD, so we got the hand drawn P and P sheets and I cut my own SAG template out and started drawing it with pencil, and that’s how that thing was designed. So that whole process again was just a great learning experience because you had to figure that out.

Zachary Oliphant:

I was going to say, awesome experience to work at a smaller utility like that, where you got exposure to a little bit of everything. And that’s how we learn is by doing.

Blake Tucker:

Sure.

Zachary Oliphant:

And for folks that don’t know, P and P, plane and profile, so that’s looking at SAGS and intentions on structures. And it’s interesting to talk to folks that have been around a while, while you guys were doing everything hand drawn, it’s really amazing to go back and see some of the things, probably lines that are still up and operating today that you have designed.

Blake Tucker:

Absolutely. Yep, absolutely.

Zachary Oliphant:

Well, goodness. So you’re at Texas-New Mexico Power for about a decade. And then what drove the shift in your career? You have this transmission bug. Walk me through that.

Blake Tucker:

There was that. We were winding up out in New Mexico, Silver City, New Mexico, which was a nice place, but it was way far from family. We had two small girls and our family was back in Oklahoma. My wife’s family’s back in Oklahoma. It became time to move home. If we were ever going to go home, once you stay at some place, it’s harder to leave, the longer you stay. We were at the point where if we don’t do it now, we’re never going to do it. And so we made the decision then to move back to Oklahoma. I got a job with CSW then in their distribution design department. Then AEP bought us out, and I took the advantage to jump into transmission and have been there ever since.

Zachary Oliphant:

Okay. Awesome. So now you’re at AEP and you’ve been at AEP for going on 25 years, something like that, so a long time. So kind of walk me through that experience, your kind of history with AEP. Obviously AEP has grown a tremendous amount, one of the largest utilities in the country, if not the largest, certainly up there. So kind of walk me through kind of your history there at AEP and the various roles that you were in.

Blake Tucker:

Okay. So started out in the transmission department, just a design engineer, and still really learning the craft because I’d come from that and done one line, and I talked them into letting me try it again, so they said okay. And by this time, we had a PLS-CADD, early versions of PLS-CADD so it was really a big learning experience. But there were people that were way experienced around me, so it was a good learning opportunity. Eventually, the way we were growing, the budget kept getting bigger and bigger, they decided to make supervisors in the line engineering department, and so I got to be a supervisor there, didn’t do so much design work as supervising. And that went along for a while, and then along came CRES, and we’ll probably talk about that later on, but it was a pretty big project.

Zachary Oliphant:

Yeah, I’d say so.

Blake Tucker:

Our part of it was. And through several issues that we had on there, I got exposed to another side of the business rather than design, it was more the inspection, lab reports, failure analysis, things like that, that I really found I enjoyed. And so the opportunity came up, our transmission line standards group created a spot in Tulsa. And I heard that was happening and I said, “I want it. I’ll take it.” And it surprised everybody because I’m jumping out of supervision into just being an engineer. But really, it got me into doing what I’m doing now, which I love.

And so I talked to my boss and told him the other day, “I’ve never even though about retiring. Why retire?” I get paid good money to do something I like to do and work with people I like.

Zachary Oliphant:

And it almost hearkens back a little bit, Blake, to this … I’ve been with you in the field and our team spent time with you in the field, where there’s big issues. You spend a lot of time going out in the field. And it almost is this corollary to your early days where you’re out in the field and seeing how lines are being constructed, or maintained, or a line gets hit by a tornado and you’re out there trying to assess what do we do, and what is the right amount of inspection or remediation. And what are our issues? Or what are the issues that AEP is contending with?

So kind of walk me through your CRES experience. And for folks that don’t know, here in the state of Texas, ERCOT did something that was pretty kind of revolutionary at the time, which was to figure out how to get all of this really good wind area in West Texas, where no offense to the folks from Odessa or Midland, but not a lot of people live there, and you’re trying to get all of that renewable energy, potential renewable energy power back to population centers. And so the state set up these competitive renewable energy zones that both incumbent utilities like AEP and others got an opportunity to basically bid and talk about building transmission lines. Kind of walk me through that experience and your involvement there.

Blake Tucker:

It was really probably one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever been a part of. Originally, we were talking about maybe even contracting it out, and I said, “Stan, we don’t want to do that.” Never are we going to have an opportunity to do this again. Let’s get a bunch of people involved and we’ll get it done, and so I got to be lead engineer on that. As I said, there were lots of problems. We had to make lots of early decisions because of the pressure, political pressure to be done on time and on budget and all those kind of things. And so it was a pretty high profile project, but it really taught me a lot about just the process and getting things done, and how important it was to get out ahead of things. Plus, as I said, it exposed me to a different side of the business that I’ve really enjoyed and kind of moved over into standards now.

Zachary Oliphant:

So maybe we can talk a little bit about that, Blake. I mean, the interesting thing from my background on the manufacturing side at that time period, so this is late 20, 2008, 2009, 2010 when all this was going on. You basically had this huge demand of utility structures on top of just the regular demand that’s going on, and you had manufacturers really from all over the world trying to compete over building material for these lines, and it stressed the system like it’s probably never done before.

Blake Tucker:

Absolutely.

Zachary Oliphant:

And as a result of that, as you can imagine, when you take manufacturing capacity and you try to double it or triple it, you can run into some real challenges from a manufacturing perspective, a quality perspective, a trades and crafts perspective. So maybe walk me through some of the challenges that you’re willing to share related to that, and kind of what maybe drove you into standards and the importance of standards.

Blake Tucker:

Sure. So we started seeing problems, I can’t really get too specific about who and what, but there were quality issues that popped up. There were some issues that popped up that were based on the size of what we were doing. The structures we were using were 150 to 200 foot tall, and pretty long spans, and so I personally never put up a pole that big. When you start welding and trying to put that thing together, there are issues that don’t show up on the smaller poles. There’s the issue of the QAQC like you talked about. We didn’t reduce our normal budget or anybody else when CRES came along. We just dumped CRES on top of it.

And so it really pushed and stressed those vendors, as well as the labor contract providers. Right? So it was a pretty stressful time for them as well, and I think it exposed some weak spots in some of their processes that we have worked with them to address. But it was the investigation part of it really that got me into where I am now.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely. And like in any industry, you stress the system like that, you’re going to have challenges working. I mean, most of those plants at the time were working around the clock to produce material seven days a week. And when you’re doing that, it’s opportunity for human error to be introduced to what’s going on. And the challenge on some of these CRES lines, it’s not a 20 mile line. Right? It’s hundreds of miles. And so if you have a problem, it’s a much bigger problem. Right?

Blake Tucker:

There’s a lot of it.

Zachary Oliphant:

There’s a lot of it and it becomes a big challenge. And maybe walk through, Blake, a little bit. You guys were fortunate you found these issues, and a lot of that from your leadership and your team being out in the field, found it early enough where it was really kind of under a warranty, covered under warranty, maybe the importance of that. You guys, you’re buying structures that have a 40, 50, 60 year service life. But to this day, I think the standard warranty’s still a couple years, one, two, three years. And so it’s a relatively short warranty that the manufacturers give. And you guys now have to maintain these lines for a long, long, long period of time. Maybe walk me through the importance of what you guys did then and maybe what you do today when it comes to trying to understand how to enforce a warranty.

Blake Tucker:

So we always had inspectors out there, but weren’t really focused too much on material quality. We had vendors that we were pretty comfortable with and had been using for a long time, for the most part, and so we were pretty comfortable with them. And these things started popping up. As you said, it was pre warranty, and I think that we really pushed ourselves and pushed the inspectors to know that you need to take a little better look maybe at that. We’ve started some in plant inspections on steel poles, which we had never done before. And so we’ve kind of reacted to it that way, and it seems to have been pretty successful so far, but I think there’s probably more to come with that.

Zachary Oliphant:

And I think you’re right, Blake, I mean it’s this kind of trust, but verify. Right?

Blake Tucker:

Sure.

Zachary Oliphant:

I mean, you want to have good vendors, good relationship with your vendors. But they’re human too, and the craftsmen and women that build all these structures, it’s almost all done by hand, hand fitting, hand welding, and when you stress the system, it’s just natural that things can fall through the cracks. So walk me through, so now you’re in standards, and you’re helping with that. Walk me through kind of the importance of that for AEP and really for the industry as a whole.

Blake Tucker:

So it’s kind of funny, I was in transmissions before AEP or right at the beginning of the AEP buy out. CSW was the company that they bought out, that I worked for, didn’t have a standards group. And so the design people kind of did their own, and obviously, our first thought is, “Standards group, what do we need them for?” I don’t need somebody telling me how to do this. Since though, I’ve got to know standards and what they do, and the testing and the material verification, everything, all the research they do is so important.

Right now I’m doing one of my big projects is we’re working on improving lighting performance of our transmission system. And so how are we going to get that? Well, it starts at standards. I’ve got to do the right standard, I’ve got to do standard measurements. I’ve got to use the right structures at the right place. I’ve got to look at the right things. And so we’re kind of writing that process just to try to improve the lighting performance. We get involved in all kinds of things like that. They’re very important too.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely. And when we spoke here at our pre conference workshop about just having those conversations upfront with whatever supplier it is, whether it’s from poles, or transformers, or any other materials, is you all being able to lay out what is important and what standard everyone’s being held to, and how critically important that is to be done upfront.

Blake Tucker:

Absolutely.

Zachary Oliphant:

And make sure the vendor and the end user, like in AEP, everyone understands what the expectation is. Usually when that’s all done upfront, things go smooth.

Blake Tucker:

Absolutely.

Zachary Oliphant:

It’s when things change in the middle that people start having real challenges.

Blake Tucker:

I believe we have that kind of relationship with our vendors. This very conference, there’s several of them here and I get to see them again, and it’s kind of like seeing old friends because we know them, we work with them, and usually it’s on the phone, but to meet them in person, it’s always good. And so I agree that relationship is so important to get quality products and the quality of products that you need and that you want, all that.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely. So walk me through, you guys did an awesome presentation this morning here at TS DOST related to a failure you guys had, and maybe give me some details on that. That’s kind of right in your sweet spot. Right? It’s the kind of trouble man, something happens, something falls down, and then all this kind of forensic work you’ve been doing over the years.

Blake Tucker:

It’s been great. I got to work with Ken and Mike on that. And so yeah, we had a fairly new line. It had been in service for about 13 months. High winds blew through, but not a tornado, so we had winds that we recorded up in the 70 mile an hour range, and actually lost about a mile and a half of line because of that. And so the analysis show that at 70 miles an hour, those poles shouldn’t have been more than 50% loaded, so obviously something happened that affected that. As we dug deeper and deeper into what went on and what as out there, it became more and more apparent that the structure that started the cascade has some problems at a slip joint. And so we got into that and looked at what all needs to happen to make a good slip joint. And we’ve got millions of those out there. Slip joints aren’t just failing right and left, so it’s a pretty foolproof way, and if you do it right, it’s even better.

That very first line that I was the inspector on, we had slip joints. They had a dozer on one side and a big truck on the other and they just drive in and [inaudible 00:19:19]. There was no jacks or-

Zachary Oliphant:

That’s how you jack them together.

Blake Tucker:

No jacking, no nothing like that. I just got too big trucks and I mashed them together. And we were hopefully a little bit more thorough about that then. But that slip joint in that case, something happened just wasn’t quite installed right, and so it didn’t act like a good slip joint, and it caved at the 70 mile an hour wind.

Zachary Oliphant:

Yeah. And that’s kind of the interesting piece. Some of these, we investigate a lot of failures. And sometimes it’s a manufacturing related issue. Sometimes it’s a weather capacity of the particular member’s structure issue. And sometimes it’s an installation issue or some combination of all of those. And it makes it really difficult for someone like you and for folks like us. You’re trying to evaluate all of that and just understand root cause so we can all learn from it and make sure that the next time you’re building a line, the next time you’re building a line, those things are looked for and you’re trying to catch them.

I think it is kind of interesting, Blake. I mean, we’re seeing most of the catastrophic failures we see are relatively new poles. And I know Wes Oliphant with us, and we chat a lot about this. Why is that? We like to think part of it is just because the technology and the design analysis have gotten so tight that you can optimize a pole to as optimal as you can get it, which is great, it’s fantastic. It saves the folks like AEP money. But the challenge, you’ve got to build it perfect and you’ve got to construct it perfect. Right?

And those are some of the things that I think, like you said, we’re seeing kind of come out of this optimization of design that manufacturing’s trying to catch up to being perfect, or as close as they can get. And then certainly on the construction side, you guys have good standards in place, trying to have everyone doing everything the same way. But it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect every day.

Blake Tucker:

The line we were just talking about, I went back into PLSK, I did that structure utilization check. We had poles that were designed to 97%, 96%. And today, we look at that and say, “Well, that’s a good efficient line.” 20 years ago when I started transmission, I would shoot for 80 to 85 just because you don’t know that and you don’t know what’s going to happen during construction. There’s so many things out there that could happen to have something at 95% would’ve scared me to death. But now, like you said, we’ve got better tools. We’ve got better control over how they’re installed. We feel much more comfortable cutting it that close. And I think you’re absolutely right, I think that’s given us some problems.

Zachary Oliphant:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think we’re all learning from that. Right?

Blake Tucker:

Sure.

Zachary Oliphant:

Where is the push and pull? And how close to that edge do we get? One of the other things I want to chat with you about, Blake, so we talk a lot about renewables and CRES, is maybe your perspective on this huge shift that we’ve seen over the last 15 or 20 years to renewables here in the US. You started your conversation talking about a coal power plant. AEP has shuttered a lot of them, and most utilities in the country because of political pressure and other reasons, and because of new technologies, are shuttering a lot of their coal power plants and coming on with combined cycle and renewables to backfill that. But it creates some interesting challenges on the grid. Maybe speak to that a little bit.

Blake Tucker:

Sure. I think we as an industry are really in kind of a precarious spot right now, tremendous pressure to go green. Right? More and more renewables, more EVs, or electric vehicles, more everything greener, better, which is great. We should be pushing there. The problem is we don’t have the technology on the other side of that to make that happen. I think we’re seeing … We’ve seen some signs of that now. The grid is almost pretty saturated with renewables as far as what we can do with them. It’s simple. And you have to have a generator that runs at night when the wind’s not blowing. And so how do we get that, and how do we control the grid with that level? Search and generation goes into operations and transmission, we’ve got whatever that solution winds up being, we’ve got to be able to get that from where the generator spot to the load.

And we’ve got to do it fast. We can’t take five years or 10 years to get a line built. We have to be able to do that faster. You could look at distribution and distributed generation. That’s going go have to be part of the key too. And so our industry from top to bottom, generation to distribution is really being pushed. And there’s got to be some technology that’s got to happen pretty fast for us to do that. And fortunately, the industry as a whole has a lot of really smart people in it, so it’s going to happen. It’s just going to be a little painful maybe sometimes.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely. And it’s interesting to see an industry kind of as old as the utility industry is in the US seeing such huge change so fast. And then like you said, it puts a lot of pressure on the whole system and everybody. For most folks that aren’t in our industry, they just think you flip the light switch and the lights always come on, and it’s just easy. It’s obviously a lot more complicated than that. And like you said, if the wind’s not blowing and you’ve got demand, you’ve got a problem. If the sun’s not shining and you’ve got a lot of solar capacity generation, you have demand, you have a problem. And it’s trying to balance those two and whether that’s done with utility grade storage, which a lot of folks are working on, or it’s other types of generation to help deal with peak demand. But it’s a tough and complicated and expensive proposition to try to get right.

Blake Tucker:

It is. It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of understanding and communication because a lot of times, the decision makers in politics aren’t really aware of the difficulties of what goes on. And so it’s going to take a lot of education I think on our part to those, the decision makers, as far as how we’re going to make that work.

Zachary Oliphant:

Yeah. It sounds great to just do it and do it overnight, but like you said, I think we’re on this kind of precipice of … And like you said, there’s brilliant people working on this. I think we’ll get there, but it’s going to be a challenge to get there and get there very, very quickly.

Blake Tucker:

I think so. It’s really pretty exciting because like you said, our industry is pretty slow moving. I wouldn’t call it stagnant, but slow and steady is a good word for it. And now instead, we’re being pushed to do things pretty fast, and so it’s kind of exciting.

Zachary Oliphant:

Well, you guys, traditionally being slow and steady is important because what you deal with is dangerous. I mean, you’re dealing with high voltage work, and so people want to be careful and very deliberate about everything that’s going on to make sure it’s being done safely. And so some of that kind of regulation, you talk about standards, some of that regulation and some of those standards and all those things you’re trying to do is to keep people safe and it’s to keep power on all the time and be reliable and resilient.

Blake Tucker:

Absolutely. I’m thinking about our workforce, the engineering workforce too. As far as standards being important, we have lots of really young engineers, and they’re super bright. They’re coming out of school miles ahead of where I was when I graduated. But they don’t know things … They pick up a tool like PLS-CADD and they’re so fast at learning that program, it’s easy to forget the depth of knowledge that they don’t have. And so standards I think really are important as far as giving them a path. This is a path. You stay on this path and you should be okay. We’re going to try to teach you all that other stuff as we go along and hopefully mentor you and bring you along. But in the meantime, these are the standards if you stay within this path, you’re going to be good for 99% of the time.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely. Well, maybe walk me through that. You mentioned kind of young engineers joining AEP. I know AEP’s added a lot of engineers over the last couple years, really gone kind of on a hiring binge because of all this work that you guys and other utilities have. What’s some advice you’d give to a young engineer, someone coming straight out of school, coming with a very different skillset, raised with technology from basically being little kids, and applying that? But again, you’re applying software and understanding the theory and methods of what’s going on, little different than you drawing your plane and profile by hand. Right?

Blake Tucker:

So it’s so important not to get caught up and let the program do it for you. And so you have to really push yourself to get deep into: Why is it doing this? If it tells me something’s overloaded, I go, “Well, is it 10% over? What does that really mean?” Is that some vein that you didn’t even model right? Or what’s causing that and why? And digging deeper, and that would be I think my advice to somebody, don’t be too anxious to throw away just a calculator and a pencil. If you can do it with a pencil and a piece of paper, then you understand the process. And it’s much easier, much better to understand what the computer’s doing if you do that. I’ve always liked that. A lot of people don’t design a structure by hand, nobody wants to do that anymore, but that’s invaluable. If you know enough to do that, then it’s invaluable.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely, yeah. If you understand the theory behind it all, I know Wes talks about that a lot, and we spoke about that a lot on our podcast here on slide rule and big chief tablet. You’re sketching it out. But knowing what’s driving the software is critically important to be able to question. Are the results right?

Blake Tucker:

Absolutely.

Zachary Oliphant:

And be able to challenge the results that you’re getting and make them make sense instead of it just being an output, and then you just check a box and sign off and move on.

Blake Tucker:

Yep, exactly. It’s so important to know what’s going on.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely. Well, one of the things we like to ask everybody on our podcast, Blake, it is The Integrity Podcast, and so maybe you have a story about, either a personal story or a work related story around where either integrity had some great outcome, or maybe how someone cut a corner on integrity and created a big problem that you were involved in.

Blake Tucker:

I think it would go back to that first transmission line we talked about. The guy who was a general foreman at that line was Calvin Hargrave. He eventually became president of that company. At that time, I didn’t know enough to know what he was doing. I trusted what he said if he said, “This is the way we always do it, Ace.” Okay, and trusted him. As I’ve grown into the transmission business and knowledge, I can look back at that and say, “Everything he taught me was true.” He had the integrity to do things right the whole time every time, and that’s so important. AEP has that. We kind of talk about that, doing the right thing every time. And it’s important to reinforce that and to get that kind of trust. I mean, people, even as a supervisor, to know that you look up to your manager. You know that he’s always going to do the right thing by you every time, and that he’s always going to be truth. And those kind of things, that integrity’s important.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely. Like you said, it’s building that culture where people are doing the right things all the time, even when nobody’s looking.

Blake Tucker:

Absolutely.

Zachary Oliphant:

And you guys as engineers just naturally have to be doing that. You’re kind of the final say on: What are we building? And what are we putting up that should be there for the next 40, 50, 60 years? That’s going to be delivering power to a lot of people, a lot of homes, and certainly, the integrity around all of those little decisions that have to get made have to be done right.

Blake Tucker:

It’s important, absolutely. It’s important to even down to the little bitty details. To have integrity, I’m not going to rob a bank, or somebody loses $1000, I’m going to pick it up. But somebody loses that penny or something, those little quarters, those things like that, when you can show integrity at that small level too, I think that’s also important.

Zachary Oliphant:

Absolutely. No, agree with you. Well, Blake, awesome conversation. Appreciate you being with us today. It’s been great to hear about your experience and all the great work you guys in AEP are doing. And you’re welcome back anytime. Happy to have you, and good luck to you moving forward.

Blake Tucker:

I appreciate it. It’s been great. I’ve had a good relationship with EXO for a long time, and I look forward to a lot longer.

Zachary Oliphant:

Sounds good.

Blake Tucker:

Appreciate it.

Zachary Oliphant:

Thanks, Blake.

Episode 007 – Blake Tucker

In this episode, Blake Tucker, Engineering Principal at American Electric Power (AEP), joins host Zachary Oliphant to talk about:

  • The challenges and triumphs of harnessing renewable energy in West Texas and delivering it to population centers across the state
  • The importance of understanding and enforcing warranties, expectations, and quality standards
  • The tension in the utility industry between the importance of “going green” and simultaneously keeping the grid efficient and secure for the long run
  • Why industry leaders should work to educate the public about the technological needs of achieving a more sustainable and durable grid

“If you can do it with a pencil and a piece of paper, then you understand the process – that’s invaluable.”


— Blake Tucker

About Blake Tucker:

Blake Tucker is a staff engineer with American Electric Power. He graduated with a B.S.E.E. from Oklahoma State University. Blake is a registered P.E. in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. He has 36 years in the electric utility industry in various roles and has been a staff engineer in the transmission lines standards department for the past 8 years.
Blake is a member of NESC and has participated in the NESC 2012, 2017, and 2022 code cycles on subcommittee 4. He is also a member of the NESC Interpretation Subcommittee, NATF Lines Core Team, and IEEE.

Connect with Blake Tucker:

About The Integrity Podcast host, Zachary Oliphant:

Zachary Oliphant is a husband, father, and serial entrepreneur with a nose for encouraging good people to do great things together in business and in life. Zachary has been involved in start-ups as a founder and advisor, and has overseen the development of a series of software applications, including The Exo Portal™ for real-time management of utility infrastructure. Zachary is Principal and CEO at Exo in Houston, Texas.

Connect with Zachary:

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