Minneapolis, MN (KROC-AM News) - The FAA has given Minnesota-based Xcel Energy approval to begin using small commercial drones to inspect its electrical and natural gas systems.  

Xcel says it has more than 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure that need to be periodically inspected. The company says the switch to the unmanned drones for inspections will not only save money but allow for a safer and more effective monitoring program. Xcel also says the drones will be able to inspect areas that pose dangers to its workers. They will also eliminate the use of helicopters and trucks for inspections, which will minimize the impact on the environment.

Xcel plans to use drones to visually inspect electricity transmission and distribution lines, power plants, renewable energy facilities, substations and natural gas transmission and distribution  pipelines.

“We are pleased with the FAA decision as we study how this new technology can best be used to enhance employee and public safety at our operations,” said Kent Larson, Xcel Energy’s executive vice president and group president of operations.

“We believe these measures will increase electricity and gas system reliability, reduce customer costs and improve our emergency response times,” said Larson. He added that the company’s current plan is to use drones only over utility property or utility rights of way and away from populated areas and airports. The drones will be flown at low altitudes and in the operator’s line of sight.

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