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Become A Power Plant Operator

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Working As A Power Plant Operator

  • Controlling Machines and Processes
  • Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Material
  • Identifying Objects, Actions, and Events
  • Monitor Processes, Materials, or Surroundings
  • Getting Information
  • Unpleasant/Hazardous Environment

  • Stressful

  • $31,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Power Plant Operator Do

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

Duties

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically do the following:

  • Control power-generating equipment, which may use any one type of fuel, such as coal, nuclear fuel, or natural gas
  • Read charts, meters, and gauges to monitor voltage and electricity flows
  • Check equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems
  • Adjust controls to regulate the flow of power
  • Start or stop generators, turbines, and other equipment as necessary

Electricity is one of our nation’s most vital resources. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control power plants and the flow of electricity from plants to substations, which distribute electricity to businesses, homes, and factories. Electricity is generated from many sources, including coal, gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy (from water sources), and wind and solar power.

Nuclear power reactor operators control nuclear reactors. They adjust control rods, which affect how much electricity a reactor generates. They monitor reactors, turbines, generators, and cooling systems, adjusting controls as necessary. Operators also start and stop equipment and record the data produced. They may need to respond to abnormalities, determine the causes, and take corrective action.

Power distributors and dispatchers, also known as systems operators, control the flow of electricity as it travels from generating stations to substations and users. In exercising such control, operators monitor and operate current converters, voltage transformers, and circuit breakers over a network of transmission and distribution lines. They prepare and issue switching orders to route electrical currents around areas that need maintenance or repair. They must detect and respond to emergencies, such as transformer or transmission line failures, which can cause cascading power outages over the network of transmission and distribution lines they control. They may work with plant operators to troubleshoot electricity generation issues.

Power plant operators control, operate, and maintain machinery to generate electricity. They use control boards to distribute power among generators and regulate the output of several generators. They monitor instruments to maintain voltage and electricity flows from the plant to meet consumer demand for electricity—demand that fluctuates throughout the day.

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How To Become A Power Plant Operator

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers need extensive on-the-job training, which may include a combination of classroom and hands-on training. Nuclear power reactor operators also need a license. Many jobs require a background check, and workers are subject to drug and alcohol screenings.

Many companies require prospective workers to take the Power Plant Maintenance and Plant Operator exams from the Edison Electrical Institute to see if they have the right aptitudes for this work. These tests measure reading comprehension, understanding of mechanical concepts, spatial ability, and mathematical ability.

Education

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers need at least a high school diploma. However, employers may prefer workers who have a college or vocational school degree.

Employers generally look for people with strong math and science backgrounds for these highly technical jobs. Understanding electricity and math, especially algebra and trigonometry, is important.

Training

Power plant operators and dispatchers undergo rigorous, long-term on-the-job training and technical instruction. Several years of onsite training and experience are necessary for a worker to become fully qualified. Even fully qualified operators and dispatchers must take regular training courses to keep their skills up to date.

Nuclear power reactor operators usually start working as equipment operators or auxiliary operators, helping more experienced workers operate and maintain the equipment while learning the basics of how to operate the power plant.

Along with this extensive on-the-job training, nuclear power plant operators typically receive formal technical training to prepare for the license exam from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Once licensed, operators are authorized to control equipment that affects the power of the reactor in a nuclear power plant. Operators continue frequent onsite training, which familiarizes them with new monitoring systems that provide operators better real-time information regarding the plant.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Nuclear power reactor operators must be licensed through the NRC. To become licensed, operators must meet training and experience requirements, pass a medical exam, and pass the NRC licensing exam. To keep their license, operators must pass a plant-operating exam each year, pass a medical exam every 2 years, and apply for renewal of their license every 6 years. Licenses cannot be transferred between plants, so an operator must get a new license to operate in another facility.

Power plant operators who do not work at a nuclear power reactor may be licensed as engineers or firefighters by state licensing boards. Requirements vary by state and depend on the specific job functions that the operator performs.

Power distributors and dispatchers who are in positions in which they could affect the power grid must be certified through the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s System Operator Certification Program. With sufficient training and experience, workers can become shift supervisors, trainers, or consultants.

Nuclear power plant operators begin working in nuclear power plants, typically as nonlicensed operators. After in-plant training and passing the NRC licensing exam, they become licensed reactor operators. Licensed operators can then advance to senior reactor operators, who supervise the operation of all controls in the control room. Senior reactor operators also may become plant managers or licensed operator instructors.

Important Qualities

Concentration skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must be careful, attentive, and persistent. They must be able to concentrate on a task, such as monitoring the temperature of reactors over a certain length of time without being distracted.

Detail oriented. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must monitor complex controls and intricate machinery to ensure that everything is operating properly.

Dexterity. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must use precise and repeated motions when working in a control room.

Mechanical skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must know how to work with machines and use tools. They must be familiar with how to operate, repair, and maintain equipment.

Problem-solving skills. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers must find and quickly solve problems that arise with equipment or controls.

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Power Plant Operator Career Paths

Power Plant Operator
Operations Engineer Production Supervisor Shipping Supervisor
2nd Shift Supervisor
6 Yearsyrs
Engineer Service Engineer Commissioning Engineer
Commissioning Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Maintenance Supervisor Controls Technician Control Supervisor
Controls Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Stationary Engineer Chief Engineer Facilities Manager
Director Of Facilities
11 Yearsyrs
Plant Operator Plant Manager
Director Of Plant Operations
13 Yearsyrs
Plant Operator Maintenance Technician Property Manager
Director Of Property Management
6 Yearsyrs
Boiler Operator Stationary Engineer Facilities Manager
Director, Facilities & Operations
6 Yearsyrs
Technician Maintenance Supervisor Facility Engineer
Facilities/Engineering Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Operator Quality Control Inspector Production Supervisor
General Supervisor
6 Yearsyrs
Field Service Technician Process Engineer Plant Engineer
Plant Engineering Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Control Room Operator Operation Supervisor Operations Manager
Plant Manager
11 Yearsyrs
Boiler Operator Plant Operator
Planting Supervisor
6 Yearsyrs
Technician Quality Control Inspector Quality Assurance Inspector
Production Superintendent
9 Yearsyrs
Operations Technician Chemical Operator Reactor Operator
Senior Reactor Operator
8 Yearsyrs
Control Room Operator Maintenance Technician Field Service Technician
Service Manager
6 Yearsyrs
Maintenance Supervisor Manufacturing Engineer Manufacturing Supervisor
Shift Production Supervisor
8 Yearsyrs
Stationary Engineer Operations Engineer Operations Manager
Site Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Field Service Technician Operations Manager Site Manager
Site/Project Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Operator Production Supervisor Warehouse Manager
Warehouse Operations Manager
7 Yearsyrs
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Do you work as a Power Plant Operator?

Power Plant Operator Demographics

Gender

Male

93.6%

Female

5.4%

Unknown

1.0%
Ethnicity

White

64.3%

Hispanic or Latino

15.2%

Black or African American

10.7%

Asian

5.6%

Unknown

4.2%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

56.3%

Carrier

12.5%

German

6.3%

Igbo

6.3%

Samoan

6.3%

Cheyenne

6.3%

Romanian

6.3%
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Power Plant Operator Education

Schools

Youngstown State University

11.1%

Bismarck State College

10.3%

University of Phoenix

10.3%

Maine Maritime Academy

7.7%

Thomas Edison State University

7.7%

Community College of the Air Force

6.0%

Maysville Community and Technical College

6.0%

Excelsior College

5.1%

Columbia Southern University

3.4%

Humboldt State University

3.4%

Houston Community College

3.4%

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

3.4%

Coastline Community College

3.4%

University of Idaho

3.4%

ECPI University

2.6%

Mesa Community College - Boswell

2.6%

Massachusetts Maritime Academy

2.6%

Universal Technical Institute

2.6%

Henry Ford College

2.6%

Ferris State University

2.6%
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Majors

Business

15.0%

Electrical Engineering Technology

9.2%

Mechanical Engineering

8.2%

Electrical Engineering

8.0%

Environmental Control Technologies/Technicians

8.0%

Engineering

6.5%

Automotive Technology

4.8%

Industrial Technology

4.6%

General Studies

4.6%

Plant Sciences

4.6%

Applied Horticulture

3.9%

Engineering Technology

3.4%

Education

3.4%

Heating And Air Conditioning

3.4%

Management

3.1%

Nuclear Engineering Technology

2.9%

Criminal Justice

1.7%

Graphic Design

1.7%

General Education, Specific Areas

1.7%

Legal Research And Advanced Professional Studies

1.4%
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Degrees

Other

37.4%

Bachelors

27.2%

Associate

15.8%

Certificate

9.6%

Masters

6.8%

Diploma

1.7%

License

1.1%

Doctorate

0.3%
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Top Skills for A Power Plant Operator

  1. Boilers
  2. Plant Operations
  3. Safety Procedures
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Shift supervisor, operations of boilers, turbines, generators along with associated auxiliary equipment.
  • Assisted in ongoing plant operations to ensure reactor power demands and maintenance needs were expeditiously met without hindering overall power requirements.
  • Follow safety procedures and company policies for equipment operation.
  • Performed duties and supervised plant mechanics conducting preventative maintenance or repairs on generator sets and plant ancillary equipment.
  • Operate, maintain, and repair boilers, chillers, air compressors, generators, and all auxiliary machinery.

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Top Power Plant Operator Employers

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Power Plant Operators Job Description

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