- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Xcel Energy says it has approval from federal regulators to use drones to inspect more than 320,000 miles of electric and natural gas infrastructure.

The Federal Aviation Administration says Xcel can use the small unmanned aircraft systems to visually inspect electric transmission and distribution lines, power plants, renewable energy facilities, substations and pipelines.

Xcel executive vice president Kent Larson says utility employees will also use drones to minimize the impact of trucks, helicopters and other utility equipment on environmentally sensitive areas. Larson says the drones will keep workers out of danger, improve emergency response times and reduce customer costs.

The utility says the company’s current plan is to use drones only over utility property and away from populated areas and airports.

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