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The Guy at the Controls: Labor Quality and Power Plant Efficiency


  • Bushnell, James
  • Wolfram, Catherine


This paper examines the impact of individual human operators on the fuel efficiency of power plants. Although electricity generation is a fuel and capital intensive enterprise, anecdotal evidence, interviews, and empirical analysis support the hypothesis that labor, particularly power plant operators, can have a non-trivial impact on the operating efficiency of the plant. We present evidence to demonstrate these effects and survey the policies and practices of electricity producing firms that either reduce or exacerbate fuel efficiency differences across individual plant operators.

Suggested Citation

  • Bushnell, James & Wolfram, Catherine, 2009. "The Guy at the Controls: Labor Quality and Power Plant Efficiency," Staff General Research Papers Archive 13137, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:isu:genres:13137

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Zvi Griliches & Jacques Mairesse, 1995. "Production Functions: The Search for Identification," NBER Working Papers 5067, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2005. "Social Preferences and the Response to Incentives: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 917-962.
    3. Alexandre Mas & Enrico Moretti, 2009. "Peers at Work," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(1), pages 112-145, March.
    4. Newbery, D.M. & Pollitt, M.G., 1996. "The Restructuring and Privatisation of the CEGB: Was It Worth It?," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 9607, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    5. Olley, G Steven & Pakes, Ariel, 1996. "The Dynamics of Productivity in the Telecommunications Equipment Industry," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(6), pages 1263-1297, November.
    6. Paul L. Joskow, 1997. "Restructuring, Competition and Regulatory Reform in the U.S. Electricity Sector," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 119-138, Summer.
    7. Barton H. Hamilton & Jack A. Nickerson & Hideo Owan, 2003. "Team Incentives and Worker Heterogeneity: An Empirical Analysis of the Impact of Teams on Productivity and Participation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 111(3), pages 465-497, June.
    8. James Levinsohn & Amil Petrin, 2003. "Estimating Production Functions Using Inputs to Control for Unobservables," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(2), pages 317-341.
    9. Christensen, Laurits R & Greene, William H, 1976. "Economies of Scale in U.S. Electric Power Generation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages 655-676, August.
    10. Christopher R. Knittel, 2002. "Alternative Regulatory Methods And Firm Efficiency: Stochastic Frontier Evidence From The U.S. Electricity Industry," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(3), pages 530-540, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Zaida Contreras, Tihomir Ancev, and Regina Betz, 2014. "Evaluation of Environmental Taxation on Multiple Air Pollutants in the Electricity Generation Sector - Evidence from New South Wales, Australia," Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2).
    2. Troy D. Smith, 2015. "Private Equity Investment in India: Efficiency vs Expansion," Discussion Papers 15-011, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    3. Stefan Seifert, 2015. "Measuring Productivity When Technologies Are Heterogeneous: A Semi-Parametric Approach for Electricity Generation," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1526, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    4. Chad Syverson, 2011. "What Determines Productivity?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(2), pages 326-365, June.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation
    • L94 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Electric Utilities
    • M54 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Labor Management


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