Tim Hushbeck always has a calmness in his voice. Even the Friday after the historic artic storm slammed Oklahoma with bitter subzero temperatures and significant snow and forced AEP-PSO (American Electric Power-Public Service Company of Oklahoma) to implement rolling blackouts in the area, Hushbeck answered the phone in his usual even-keeled voice.
Once the external affairs manager for Public Service Company of Oklahoma realized he wasn’t talking to a customer, he answered the question of “how was your week?” with a lot of emotion. “Horrible!” was his first reaction, but then he calmly explained that it was the weather that was horrible, which made for an interesting work week.
“In all my years with PSO – almost 35 – we’ve never experienced this before. It’s never happened that we’ve been required to take customers offline other than repairs. This was a completely different level … really unique,” he said. “And there wasn’t much notice.”
Hushbeck’s voice trailed off, almost as if he were shaking his head in disbelief.
As a general rule, he said, electrical power outages are because a line (or lines) are down or there are substation issues. He talked about “normal” storms for this part of the country and peak summer usage like what normally occurs in August with high demand for air conditioning.
“What we just experienced here is rare. We’re not used to the extreme cold like the northern states who see winter peaking of electrical usage. We’re not used to pulling that much power just due to temperature. Our normal scenario involves lines being down,” Hushbeck said. “We took a lot of phone calls and we did a lot of explaining. It was a busy week.”
The power grid
When Hushbeck says “we” he is referring to Public Service Company of Oklahoma and American Electric Power. He is also referring to the Southern Power Pool, which is a regional transmission organization. SPP is a nonprofit corporation mandated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission infrastructure and competitive wholesale electricity prices on behalf of its members.
Although the average electrical power customer may have never heard of SPP before last week, the company was founded in 1941 when 11 regional power companies pooled their resources to keep Arkansas’ Jones Mill powered around the clock in support of critical, national defense needs, according to their website, spp.org. Today, SPP oversees the bulk electric grid and wholesale power market in the central United States on behalf of a diverse group of utilities and transmission companies in 17 states, including Oklahoma. It’s a collaboration in the interest of providing a critical service for the good of the region.
“If a power plant or two went down, then SPP can push through by using other facilities to stabilize it,” Hushbeck said. “It’s a backup or a crutch that we can fall back on if the system fails.”
February in Oklahoma is historically a cold month, according to National Weather Service records. However, the recent artic blast that pushed through the country as far south as the Gulf of Mexico made history. Meteorologists cracked open the books to look at extreme cold records.
“Single-digit and negative temperatures are not common around here. It became a load issue,” Hushbeck said. “We received a request from SPP to reduce the load to help not damage the system, which resulted in the rolling blackouts we experienced.”
In a nutshell, electricity usage to stay warm exceeded the available generation of resources. As a result, SPP declared a Level 3 Emergency Alert. It was a challenge to explain to customers why they would be temporarily losing power during the extreme cold weather, Hushbeck said.
“The easiest type of storm to explain is the one that people can step outside and see. What we just experienced was more of an abstract problem or strategy scenario. It’s the first time I really remember trying to explain something like that to the public. This wasn’t something they could actually see. It was hard to paint the picture,” Hushbeck said. “Snow, as a general rule, doesn’t hurt us. It was the extreme temperatures.”
In a parallel universe, Hushbeck might be spinning up the hits on a local radio station and using his calm voice as a disc jockey. Music has always been one of his passions.
“I grew up with kids who had a lot of interest in radio. We would make tapes, like radio shows, in a converted garage,” he said.
He was born in Anacortes, Washington, and moved with his family to Tulsa in 1967. He is the son of Walter and Marilyn Hushbeck and is the youngest of six children. His dad served in the military during World War II throughout Europe, including Normandy Beach, and was a strong influence on his son obtaining a college degree.
“I didn’t plan to go to college. I was ready to go to work. Even my high school guidance counselor said I wasn’t major college material and suggested I go to junior college,” Hushbeck said. He attended Daniel Webster High School in Tulsa and was elected Senior Class President in 1980.
“My dad said ‘no’ to junior college and said that I needed to get a college degree. I went to Oklahoma State University and majored in Radio/TV/Film. I graduated in December of 1984 – got out and couldn’t find a job,” he said.
While at OSU he worked for the college radio station as the On-Air Talent (DJ) Production Director. Also, while at OSU, he met his wife Traci. She graduated from OSU in 1985 and now works as City Clerk for Lawton.
“She really wanted me to have a job before we got married, so I took a job as a sales floor manager for Grundy’s Sporting Goods,” Hushbeck said. He worked there for about three years before his career with PSO began in 1988 as a field representative reading electric meters.
Thirty-three years later, Hushbeck has an extensive, impressive history and resume documenting his career development with the Oklahoma-based energy provider. He worked as a field representative then as a construction technician from 1988 through 1992, before transitioning to sales and marketing as a power conditioning coordinator. In this position, he sold and marketed surge protection equipment.
As a marketing representative and consultant from 1992 through 1996, he worked with PSO's Good Cents Program and also helped develop the commercial cooking program. He promoted the use of electric cooking equipment across Oklahoma. Then in 1996, Hushbeck was promoted to area business manager and his involvement in community PSO services began to blossom. He started working with local and state elected officials and key community impact leaders and with community and economic development. He served as a registered PSO legislative lobbyist in 1998.
Since 2001, Hushbeck has worked in the southwest region from Lawton. He was an integral part of PSO receiving four major AEP Foundation grants for Lawton District customers and he also served as the point person for PSO when Elk City attempted a hostile buyout of the PSO electric system.
He has served on numerous chambers of commerce boards throughout the area, including Elgin, Chickasha and Lawton, and also served on the Elgin Economic Development Authority; South Central Oklahoma Workforce Board; The Salvation Army in Lawton and the Elgin Library Board, just to name a few. Serving communities is a key component of Hushbeck’s position.
"PSO is in the people business," he said. "We are always looking for projects that will aid in economic development. We’re not just an electric company. We are interested in the development of small businesses in the community. We support and invest in economic development expansion of existing companies. We invest in students through robotics programs, which is a way to invest in our future workforce. We want PSO to be a destination company.”
Hushbeck may not be spinning the hits on a local radio station as a disc jockey in this timeline, but music is still an important part of his life. Before COVID-19, he built a lot of his vacation time around attending concerts across the nation. He can't even count the number of concerts he has attended and still tries to see new artists.
“I will know the real conclusion of the pandemic is over when I can go to live shows again,” he said.
In the meantime, Hushbeck uses his calm voice not as a disc jockey, but as a way to encourage people day-to-day and talk through unique events that can disrupt normal lives.