Xcel Energy, an electricity and natural gas company with regulated operations in eight western and midwestern states, is partnering with Environmental Consultants Inc. and FLōT Systems to fly an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator.
Under this research and development mission, the UAS will be used to survey a transmission line in an area known as the Canadian River Breaks, located north of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. The mission will take place this week.
With this flight, Xcel Energy – a Section 333 exemption holder for commercial drone operations – claims it will be the first U.S. utility to conduct BVLOS drone operations for surveying.
Xcel Energy inspects more than 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure and has used helicopters as the primary means of accessing lines in rugged terrain. Last year, the company began a program of visually inspecting substations in Texas with UAS, operated within the line of sight of the operator.
The company notes it has more than 7,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in its Texas-New Mexico service area alone.
Teresa Mogensen, Xcel Energy’s senior vice president for transmission, explains, “Employees will also use drones to observe environmentally sensitive areas without the use of trucks, helicopters or other utility equipment – minimizing the environmental impact.”