Drones Beyond Line of Sight Approved for Denver Power Line Inspections

Image: Xcel Energy

Xcel Energy is the first U.S. utility to operate drones beyond line of sight for ongoing power line inspections to reduce costs and improve safety in the mountainous terrain near Denver.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DENVER — Advancement of unmanned aircraft under development by a U.S. utility, Xcel Energy has been approved to operate drones beyond line of sight during ongoing inspections of transmission lines near Denver.

This innovative technology is revolutionizing our work by improving the safety, efficiency and cost effectiveness of maintaining and protecting the grid for our customers,” said said Ben Fowke, chairman, president and CEO, Xcel Energy.

Last week local, state and federal officials joined the company to watch the drone as it inspects electric power lines near Ft. St. Vrain Generating Station in Platteville, Colorado.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Xcel Energy special permission to conduct the beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights under a waiver, announced earlier this year. The waiver allows the company to commercially operate a drone without visual observers or a chase aircraft. The company has collaborated with the FAA to develop operational and safety requirements for unmanned aircraft operations in the utility industry. Last year, Xcel Energy entered into an FAA Partnership for Safety Program to operate drones for power line inspections within visual sight of operators.

Using advanced command-and-control technology, licensed pilots are remotely operating a small, 35-pound drone. Equipped with two cameras, the drone is collecting data on the condition of power lines and transmission towers with flights along a 50-mile route, according to the announcement.

The authority to fly a drone remotely greatly enhances the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of using the technology.

Leading the development of unmanned aircraft builds on our longstanding commitment to safety for our workers, the public and the environment. This is especially important in Colorado where inspecting power lines in the mountains and remote locations is challenging work,” said David Eves, executive vice president, group president-utilities, Xcel Energy.

When the transmission inspections are completed near the Denver area, Xcel Energy and its partners will work with the FAA to extend these operations for drones beyond line of sight in other states where the company provides electric service. The company surveys more than 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure as part of safety and reliability operations of its energy system.

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