Powerhouse Technician

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Linemen that specialize in relay, power station, and substation work are also known as power generation maintenance electricians.

They basically work with the power that runs the nation.

These professionals use specialized tools and have specific skills necessary to handle the equipment that distributes and stores gigawatts of electrical current.

They should also be well-aware of and strictly follow safety and protocols.

The average of 57.5 gigawatts (57,500,000,000 watts) of power is produced daily by the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington.

The US Energy Information Administration reports that the average household in America uses 29.9 kilowatts (29,900 watts) every day.

It means that the power produced at Grand Coulee daily is sufficient to supply to 1.9 million homes.

If you think about it, in the position of a power generation maintenance electrician, you would work with the amount of electricity which 1.9 million residential electricians handle altogether every day.

According to American Electric Power (AEP), by the time electricity runs from a power station to a substation point of distribution, it is measured at 500,000 volts.

Power generation maintenance electricians work with this high-voltage input which runs through the step-down transformers of the substation.

Then it will be distributed at less than 39,000 volts through the power lines that supply electricity to households, schools, businesses, hospitals, etc., in a community.

Phases of Electrical Production, Storage and Distribution

Power generation electricians are categorized into three types based on their ability to manage the three primary elements of electrical distribution and production: powerhouses, substations, and relays.


Powerhouses a.k.a power plants or power stations are the places where alternating current (AC) is generated.

The voltage is produced by a turbine spinning in a magnetic field.

The turbine can produce up to 24,000 volts before they are sent to a step-up transformer, depending on the power station.

These 24,000 volts are then increased to 500,000 by the step-up transformers.

Next, they are transmitted through high voltage power lines and delivered to substations in a large city or region.


At the step-down substations, the high voltage electricity is being transformed into a safer and more usable level and will after be distributed to homes and businesses of a community.


Relays are used for controlling the input and output of the massive amount of power as it is produced, distributed, and stored.

They are extremely specialized and high-voltage.

This is a switch that activates with a specific amount of current.

For instance, to avoid a circuit short from a power surge, you can install a relay that activates the circuit breaker when a fault is detected.

This is a protective relay.

In the powerhouses and substations, a relay refers to a transformer differential relay.

It is a protective relay that blocks a circuit breaker if the fault is detected, which prevents the transformer from damage.

Job Duties in Powerhouses and Substations

The duties of power generation maintenance electricians in powerhouses and substations are similar.

They primarily involve the work on the systems that transform voltage, either from higher to lower, or vice versa.


Power generation maintenance electricians in a powerhouse handle electricity that travels from the production source to a stepping-up station where the voltage is increased by transformers.

The duties at the power generation phase include:

  • Working with low and medium voltage motor control centers (MCCs).
  • Isolating equipment for power outages.
  • Using trapped key interlocking systems.
  • Rerouting power to better supply the grid.
  • Working with many kinds of actuators.
  • Mechanical work with transformers for varying levels of voltage.
  • Working with three-phase transformers.
  • Switchboard testing and maintenance.
  • Working with buck and boost transformers.


Both stepping-up and step-down station use the same components.

Effectively, these are substations with transformers working in opposite directions.

Electricians working at step-down and stepping-up substations handle transformers and relays that protect them.

Their duties include:

  • Cleaning, refilling and maintaining oil coolant.
  • Cleaning high voltage circuits.
  • Maintaining and repairing switchgear and insulation.
  • Fuzzing to test relays for high voltage during maintenance.
  • Maintaining and repairing battery systems.
  • Maintaining and repairing bus units.
  • Circuit breaker maintenance and testing.

To perform these tasks, one needs the following knowledge:

  • Understanding the electromotive force.
  • Knowing all the details about transformers.
  • Knowing about electromagnetic induction.
  • Knowing about phase displacement.
  • Understanding flux saturation levels and CT saturation.
  • Knowing about grounding, ground testing, and feedback.

State Licensing Requirements and Professional Certification Options

The licensing requirements for power generation maintenance electricians are set by each city, county, regional, and state jurisdiction.

Some jurisdictions refer to it as license, others, as certification.

In some jurisdictions, these electricians may have to meet specific licensing requirements, while in others they can be certified as industrial electricians.

To find out the specific requirements in your area, you should consult with the local regulatory agency in your jurisdiction or the rep of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers).

In general, the licensing process of the electricians specializing in relay, power station, and substation installations or repairs, includes three levels:

  • Apprentice – New electricians receive education and on-the-job training under supervision at this level.
    An apprenticeship can take from 4 to 6 years.
    Upon completion of the program, you will have to take and pass the exam to move up to the next level.
  • Journeyman – At this level, electricians work more independently and complete specific tasks without supervision.
    After two to four years of work as a journeyman, you can take an exam and move to the next level.
  • Master – Master electricians can lead projects as foremen and work independently on all types of jobs performed by power generation maintenance electricians.

Certifications for Powerhouse, Substation, and Relay Electricians

Powerhouse, substation, and relay certifications are offered by several national organizations.

Some jurisdictions require this as a part of the licensing process.

In others, you may not be required to hold a certification from one of these organizations, but it can serve you as a competitive professional certification.

The certifications are usually issued by national organizations separately, the examples of them include:

  • AVO Training Institute for substation maintenance electricians.
  • National Center for Construction and Education Research (NCCER) for power generation maintenance electricians.
  • AVO Training Institute for relay technicians.

Salary Information

The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects data for repair and maintenance electricians working in powerhouses, substations, and relays.

This position is one of the highest-paying jobs in the nation, and the salary keeps growing.

National average salary:

  • $65,950 – 2011.
  • $67,380 – 2012.
  • $68,270 – 2013.
  • $70,110 – 2014.
  • $72,450 – 2015.

The highest-paying states, as reported by the BLS in 2015, include the following:


  • Average – $91,790.
  • Top 10 percent average– $117,880.


  • Average – $87,060.
  • Top 10 percent average– $113,210.


  • Average – $85,610.
  • Top 10 percent average – $109,600.


  • Average – $85,290.
  • Top 10 percent average – $101,890.

North Dakota

  • Average – $85,120.
  • Top 10 percent average – $96,700.

The following salary data was valid in July 2016 and represents the types of salaries that properly credentialed electricians can make.

These figures are provided as an example only and don’t represent job offers or employment assurance:

  • Relay Test Technician with the Modesto Irrigation District in California: $70,990 – $95,472.
  • Substation Electrician with the Bonneville Power Administration (federal) in The Dalles, Oregon and Wenatchee, Washington: $91,250.
  • Relay Electrician with Seattle City Light in Washington State: $100,922 – $110,261.
  • High Voltage Transformer/Substation Electrician with the University of Iowa in Iowa City: $50,968.
  • Supervisor of Energy Systems with Rochester Public Utilities in Minnesota: $80,307 – $118,096.

Top Employers

The BLS reports that the following industries employ powerhouse, substation, and relay electricians as the major employers:

  • Local government agencies – 3,120 employees nationwide.
  • Company and enterprise management – 620 employees nationwide.
  • Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution – 15,060 employees nationwide.
  • Federal government agencies – 590 employees nationwide.
  • Commercial and industrial machinery and equipment – 760 employees nationwide.

The primary employers in the major market in the US are:


  • JEA (Jacksonville Electric Authority).
  • Link Staffing Services.
  • TAW (Tampa Armature Works).
  • Seminole Electric Group.
  • The city of Jacksonville.


  • Electric Power Systems, International.
  • Great Southwestern Construction, Inc.
  • Management Recruiters of Indianapolis.
  • Gaylor, Inc.
  • Amtrak.


  • National Field Services.
  • Critical Electric Systems Group (CESG).
  • TechUSA.
  • ONCOR.
  • Schneider Electric.

San Diego

  • Northrop Grumman.
  • VSE Corporation.
  • San Diego Gas and Electric.
  • Electric Power Systems, International.
  • Human Potential Consultants.

New York City

  • ConEdison.
  • Clean Energy.
  • Amtrak.
  • TRC Companies.
  • Essential Power LLC.
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