Utilities see potential in drones to inspect lines, towers

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BLENHEIM, N.Y. (AP) — U.S. utilities see great potential in the use of remote-controlled drones to do the often-dangerous work of inspecting power lines and transmission towers, but strict regulations have slowed adoption of the technology.

Last month, 11 utilities participated in a three-day workshop hosted by the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit consortium. Miniature helicopter-like drones equipped with cameras and other sensors conducted demonstration inspections of transmission lines at a hydroelectric plant in the Catskill Mountains.

While hobbyists can fly drones without certification, the Federal Aviation Administration requires special certification for commercial users. Seven U.S. utilities were granted FAA approval for testing drone technology in 2015.

Other industries, including oil and gas drillers, are also investigating the use of drones to make inspection and mapping tasks easier, safer and less costly.