Xcel Energy turns to drones

Tom Hinde

Xcel Energy has become the first utility company to use drones in beyond-line-of-sight inspections of more than 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure. In partnership with Flot Systems, Xcel has launched the program following the Federal Aviation Administration's regulations of unmanned aerial vehicles in January.

"We are the first to do this as a utility company, the first one for this type of mission," Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves said Wednesday. "Typically, we have used helicopters or ground patrols, but hopefully this will be less expensive and safer." Xcel Energy inspects 320,000 miles of electricity and natural gas infrastructure, including more than 1,000 substations, gas regulator stations and dozens of major power plants in eight states.