VP of Operations - Where the Action Never Ends
Darrell Tuten is a man who sees past obstacles and focuses on the goal. He knows talking doesn’t get things done but action will. TCEC’s Vice President of Operations for the last eleven years, previous operations supervisor, former crew leader and a journey lineman, he knows every mile of the co-op’s power system because he’s either built it or worked on it. After catching the eye of former Operations Manager, Junior Smith (District 1 Trustee), Darrell was offered a job at the co-op while standing alongside Highway 255 one afternoon in 1979. He started work that February, which makes him part of an elite group of employees with more than 40 years of cooperative experience. As VP of Operations, Darrell is responsible for managing the system operations, physical equipment and plant involved in distributing electricity to each member. So, what does this mean? He makes sure the power distribution system is in top working order. He schedules the inspection of every pole and line on the system on a regular cycle to determine the priority of maintenance or upgrades that may be needed to preserve the reliability of the co-op’s system. Darrell works closely with the cooperative foreman overseeing the day-to-day activities within the operations department.
He also manages the substation and metering department and mechanic’s shop. He is responsible for purchasing all cooperative vehicles. As a member of the Cooperative’s management team, he works closely with the CEO and engineering team on the design of the distribution system. From there he supervisors the activities required to construct and maintain the power system. Every day can be different and sometimes long. His work requires him to be both inside and outside of the office. He may be working behind a desk at a personal computer or participating in cooperative functions in a public forum. Other days you may find him working inside a substation or along the road near distribution line locations, and many of those times in extreme weather conditions.
His job does not provide him with a safe and protected environment away from the elements. “I guess looking from the outside, some parts of my job may look miserable, but to be honest it’s a great satisfaction to be able to do this kind of work,” said Darrell. “It is very fulfilling to be of service to people and working in the community where I grew up.” Never one to shy away from hard work, he is often found working with his line crews leading the way or lending a hand in all kinds of weather, at all times of the day. Big or small, there is no job that an operations crew member does that Darrell hasn’t already done or is willing to do to help out. Following Hurricane Michael in October 2018, when a fellow co-op asked for help, Darrell answered the call to action and he spent nearly two-weeks leading line crews during a major power restoration effort. He recalls those weeks were challenging and difficult due to the enormous amount of damage left in the wake of the storm.
He's a veteran when it comes to storm work and he admits he actually enjoys working trouble, “It’s both challenging and rewarding to turn the lights back on for our members after a major weather event.” If trouble is what he enjoys, Darrell’s had plenty of it over the last five years while directing the power restoration efforts following Hurricanes Irma, Hermine and Michael. His grit and dedication to his job has served him well when leading his crews during those long days that begin before daylight and conclude late at night, all the while keeping a watchful eye over the safety and wellbeing of each man helping to restore power to TCEC’s members safely and efficiently. Under Darrell’s guidance and direction, the TCEC operations department recently completed some major upgrades to a portion of a transmission line located in southern Taylor and Dixie counties. Transmission lines operate at a very high voltage, and this one is at 69kVs. It is a multi-phase project and consists of replacing 265 damaged and aging wooden structures with new taller structures to allow for better ground clearance. Phase I of the project included all TCEC crew members and a crew from Musgrove Construction. It was scheduled over three days and all twenty-five linemen and more than two-dozen pieces of equipment were used to perform the work. Shortly after sunrise, Darrell gave the order to re-route the power from the Steinhatchee substation to the Perry substation, then the transmission line was de-energized. The wooden structures were cut and removed and steel poles were placed back in the same location to avoid any disturbance to existing utilities. It was a highly coordinated effort designed and led by the Vice President of Operations, with all aspects of the project being discussed in advance, including switching assignments, job tasks and the full scope of work to be done, including traffic hazards, crew make up and special equipment assignments as well as the location of the nearest medical aid facility.
Phase II of the project is set to commence in the fall of 2020.
Darrell now finds himself reflecting on his tenure and admits that time goes by so quickly and sometimes it doesn’t seem like he’s been at the co-op for more than 41 years. He said, “It has been a continual change, from the equipment we are using to the type of construction methods and materials.” When Darrell entered the lineman apprentice program, he watched and learned all he could from some of the senior men. “I respected what they did and I looked up to them as leaders,” Darrell said. “I knew that was the kind of person I wanted to be.”
Judging from the high regard of his peers and respect of his operations team, Darrell has more than achieved his goal.
Marvin Johnston Retires
On April 30, Marvin Johnston, System Operator, signed off for the final time from the dispatch center. After a ten-year career at the co-op working in the System Control Center he decided it was his time to retire and go see the world. Marvin was a constant and reliable face at the co-op and during his tenure he weathered many changes and multiple hurricanes.
Known for his big smile and great sense of humor, his presence at TCEC will be greatly missed. This isn’t Marvin’s first retirement either. He joined the TCEC family after he retired as a Sergeant Major in the United States Army following a 25 years career serving our country. His active duty included the Vietnam War and he was stationed in the United States, Germany, Japan and Vietnam. Although all of us at the co-op will miss Marvin, he has more than earned his right to travel and spend time with his loved ones.
Welcome New Employees
TCEC recently grew with the addition of three new employees and all of them look forward to a long successful career at the co-op:
Chase Knight, Part-time System Operator
Last summer Chase Knight was hired as a part-time system operator and works in our system control center. Part of our engineering team, system operators are the voice on the other end of the radio communicating with our field personnel during outages and other service-related matters. During a routine work day, Chase is responsible for watching the many complex systems TCEC uses to monitor the condition of its power system on a constant basis – that includes everything from voltage levels to power flows, from gas pressures to microwave equipment. Fun fact: He is the owner of Champion Fitness Gym in Madison.
Hunter Handley, Lineman Trainee
Hunter has always lived in Jefferson County and is a graduate of Aucilla High School. He and our other linemen trainee started at the co-op just as the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting in our area. He learned quickly that safety is priority one at TCEC and saw firsthand how co-op employees can shine during a crisis and adjust to staggered work schedules, social distancing issues and stringent personal safety guidelines while doing their work. A lot of Hunter’s work in the lineman trainee position will be performed on the ground assisting his fellow crew members. This is the beginning of the line of progression to becoming a lineman where he will receive extensive on-the-job training as well as classroom type training provided by the Cooperative. Fun Fact: Hunter loves the outdoors and enjoys hunting and fishing in his spare time.
Trey Killingsworth, Lineman Trainee
Trey comes to the co-op with a little previous experience from having had an opportunity to participate in an internship program at TCEC the summer of his senior year at Madison County High School. It was here that he received some basic knowledge of the Cooperative and the electric utility business. It was enough to convince him that he wanted to work full time at TCEC and this past March he began his journey to become a lineman. Now assigned to a crew, Trey is learning all about construction and maintenance work by watching his fellow crew members work on hot lines. In addition, he is gaining valuable knowledge about the Co-op’s service territory as well as the different materials and tools used at the work sites. Fun Fact: Trey spends his free time outside, either wakeboarding or hunting and fishing. Welcome aboard Chase, Hunter and Trey, we are glad to have you!