Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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

Work Environment: Most power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers work full time. Many work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts.

How to Become One: Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically need a high school diploma or equivalent combined with extensive on-the-job training that may include a combination of classroom and hands-on training. Many jobs require a background check and drug and alcohol screenings. Nuclear power reactor operators also need a license.

Salary: The median annual wage for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is $85,950.

Job Outlook: Overall employment of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is projected to decline 16 percent over the next ten years. Although electricity use is expected to grow, technological advances and greater efficiency are expected to reduce employment.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a power plant operator with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Power Plant Operator Jobs

  • Renewable Plant Operator Technician - Wolff Enterprises Inc - Santa Clarita, CA

    Our client needs a skilled Power Plant Operator for a Landfill Gas Facility. This is a military/veteran friendly company with a strong focus on work/life balance & sustainability practices. The ...

  • Control Room Operator Combined Cycle - AVANGRID, Inc - Klamath Falls, OR

    Purpose The Senior Plant Technician Operator (SPTO) or "Control Room Operator " performs primarily as the senior operator of all power generation equipment at Klamath Cogeneration Plant and Klamath ...

  • Plant Technician - Manufacturing - Procter & Gamble - Bear River City, UT

    We hire you at entry level and you advance by demonstrating growing levels of operating ... power tools - Lift 50 pounds by bending and stooping; climb, stand, and move around on stairs ...

See all Power Plant Operator jobs

What Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers Do[About this section] [To Top]

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

Duties of Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

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 power, 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), 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 start and stop equipment and record the data produced. They also 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, they 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 detect and respond to emergencies, such as transformer or transmission line failures, which can cause cascading power outages over the network. 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 fluctuating consumer demand throughout the day.

Work Environment for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers[About this section] [To Top]

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers hold about 51,700 jobs. Employment in the detailed occupations that make up power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is distributed as follows:

Power plant operators 35,300
Power distributors and dispatchers 11,200
Nuclear power reactor operators 5,300

The largest employers of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers are as follows:

Utilities 68%
Government 16%

Operators, distributors, and dispatchers who work in control rooms generally sit or stand at a control station. The work requires constant attention. Workers also may do rounds, checking equipment and doing other work outside the control room. Transmission stations and substations where distributors and dispatchers work are typically in locations that are separate from the generating station where power plant operators work.

Because power transmission is both vitally important and sensitive to attack, security is a major concern for utility companies. Nuclear power plants and transmission stations have especially high security, and employees work in secure environments.

Power Plant Operator, Distributor, and Dispatcher Work Schedules

Because electricity is provided around the clock, operators, distributors, and dispatchers usually work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts. Work on rotating shifts can be stressful and tiring because of the constant changes in living and sleeping patterns.

How to Become a Power Plant Operator, Distributor, or Dispatcher[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers near you!

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically need a high school diploma or equivalent combined with extensive on-the-job training, which may include a combination of classroom and hands-on training. Many jobs require a background check and screenings for drugs and alcohol.

Nuclear power reactor operators also need a license.

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.

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Education for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers typically need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. 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.

Power Plant Operator, Distributor, and Dispatcher 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 for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Nuclear power reactor operators must be licensed through the NRC. They typically begin working in nuclear power plants as unlicensed operators, where they gain the required knowledge and experience to start the licensing process. 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 work 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 plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers who are in positions which could affect the power grid may need to be certified through the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's System Operator Certification Program.

Advancement for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

With sufficient education, training and experience, power plant distributors and dispatchers can become shift supervisors, trainers, or consultants.

Licensed nuclear power plant 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 for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

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.

Power Plant Operator, Distributor, and Dispatcher Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is $85,950. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,730, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $117,130.

Median annual wages for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers are as follows:

Nuclear power reactor operators $100,530
Power distributors and dispatchers $90,700
Power plant operators $81,990

The median annual wages for power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Utilities $87,970
Government $83,460

Because electricity is provided around the clock, operators, distributors, and dispatchers usually work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts. Work on rotating shifts can be stressful and tiring because of the constant changes in living and sleeping patterns.

Union Membership for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Compared with workers in all occupations, power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers have a higher percentage of workers who belong to a union.

Job Outlook for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers is projected to decline 16 percent over the next ten years. Although electricity use is expected to grow, technological advances and greater efficiency are expected to reduce employment.

Power plants are becoming more efficient and, in many cases, have higher electricity-generating capacities. Modernized control rooms in power plants will also provide workers with more information and automate some tasks. As a result, workers are able to work more efficiently, which limits the opportunity for new jobs. Similarly, these efficiency gains are expected to affect employment of nuclear power reactor operators, which is also projected to decline over the decade. No new nuclear plants have opened since the 1990s, and although some are in the application process, opening a new one may take many years.

The projected employment decline for power distributors and dispatchers is due to advances in smart-grid technology. Some tasks that dispatchers perform, such as rerouting power during an outage, can be automated. However, some distributors and dispatchers will still be needed to manage the complex electrical grid.

Job Prospects for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Job prospects may be limited as technology advances and these jobs become more automated. Many people will seek these high-paying jobs, so those with strong technical and mechanical skills will have better job prospects.

Employment projections data for Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers, 2019-29
Occupational Title Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29
Percent Numeric
Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers 51,700 43,700 -16 -8,100
  Nuclear power reactor operators 5,300 3,400 -36 -1,900
  Power distributors and dispatchers 11,200 10,300 -8 -900
  Power plant operators 35,300 30,000 -15 -5,300


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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