Xcel given go-ahead to use drones to inspect electric, gas infrastructure

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Xcel Energy has a new plan to inspect its hundreds of thousands of miles of power lines in Minnesota and the rest of the Midwest – drones.

The Minneapolis-based energy provider – which operates in eight states – confirmed on its website it has been granted permission by the Federal Aviation Authority to use the small, unmanned aircraft to inspect its 320,000 miles of electric and natural gas infrastructure.

The company has said their use will minimize the use of trucks and helicopters in "environmentally sensitive areas," keep workers out of danger and reduce customer cost.

"We believe these measures will increase electricity and gas system reliability, reduce customer costs and improve our emergency response times," executive vice president Kent Larson said.

The company says that the current plan is to use drones only over utility property and away from populated areas and airports. It adds that they will be flown at low altitudes and within the operator's line of sight.

Although its press release says the drones will inspect electricity transmission lines, power plants, renewable energy facilities and its natural gas transmission service, vice president of operating services Michael Lamb told the Star Tribune reports that they don't know for exactly what reasons they will be deployed at this stage.

The newspaper suggests they could be used to assess damage to storm-hit power lines, or to detect leaks on gas pipes, while Lamb told the newspaper that one was recently used to inspect a boiler at its Sherco power plant in Becker, Minnesota, which meant they didn't need to send workers inside.

The company has applied to use DJI Spreading Wings S1000+ drone, which flies at less than 57 mph and has a 41-inch rotor span.

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