Colorado’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, received permission from the FAA to run beyond visual line of site (BVLOS) drone operations for routine inspections of electronic transmission lines. This Wednesday, Xcel announced that it would be the first utility in the nation to receive such an authorization. 

Ben Fowke, Xcel’s chairman, president, and CEO stated the company is honored to be the first company of its kind to be conducting BVLOS inspections on the nation’s electric grid. “With this groundbreaking decision, we are advancing the use of technology that improves our efficiency and provides cost savings for our customers,” he said. 

Starting this summer, Xcel will begin surveying lines 20 miles North of Denver International Airport. To conduct the flights safely, Xcel will be working with well-respected leaders in the drone space like Harris Corporation, Northern Plains UAS Test Site, and Altus Intelligence. 

Drones are expected to act as a supplement to other inspection practices like manned-aircraft and in-person surveys conducted by workers. The affordability and flexible nature of UAVs fill the gap between dangerous hands-on inspections and costly helicopter flights. 

Xcel’s history with drones and the FAA didn’t begin with this recent authorization. In January, as part of a partnership with the FAA to develop a safety plan for electronic transmission line inspections, the Minneapolis-based utility launched a new program to inspect 20,000 miles of lines across 10 states. The data collected was used by the FAA to help shape future policies for firms conducting infrastructure and energy inspection nationwide. 

You can find out more about Xcel’s UAS projects on the company’s dedicated drone page.