- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Federal Aviation Administration will allow a Minnesota electric company to use drones to inspect electric lines and natural gas infrastructure, according to reports.

Xcel Energy, based in Minneapolis, will used unmanned aircraft systems to inspect power plants, renewable energy facilities, transmission and distribution lines, pipelines and substations, The Associated Press reports.

The FAA approved the drones for use in low altitude, away from heavily populated areas and airports, according to the StarTribune. The aircraft will have to remain within sight of the operator.

“We don’t know how we are going to use the drones yet,” Michael Lamb, vice president of operating services for Xcel Energy, told the StarTribune, though he said they would likely be used to minimize utility equipment impact in environmentally sensitive areas, as well as to asses line damage after storms, and possibly to detect leaks in natural gas pipelines.

Xcel plans to use an electric-powered drone with eight rotors that will fly at less than 57 miles per hour and go no higher than 400 feet, the StarTribune reports. The company has used drones to inspect the interior components of a large boiler at one power plant, Mr. Lamb said, and will likely use them outside across the company’s service area, which covers eight states.

 

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