Xcel Energy, a Minneapolis-based electricity and natural gas company with regulated operations in eight western and midwestern states, has been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct inspections with drones.
According to the Section 333 exemption granted, Xcel is authorized to operate the DJI Spreading Wings S1000+.
Xcel Energy, which inspects more than 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure, will use the 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,” says Kent Larson, executive vice president and group president of operations.
According to the company, the unmanned aircraft will allow employees to safely inspect hard-to-reach areas and stay out of danger. Employees will also use drones to observe environmentally sensitive areas without the use of trucks, helicopters or other utility equipment – thus, minimizing the environmental impact.
“We believe these measures will increase electricity and gas system reliability, reduce customer costs and improve our emergency-response times,” adds Larson.
He says 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.