Utilities see potential in drones to inspect lines, towers

In a Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, photo, personnel from Boulder, Colo.-based bizUAS Corp. demonstrate the use of a Cyberhawk octocopter drone for power line inspections at a New York Power Authority hydroelectric generating site in the Catskills, near Blenheim, N.Y. From routine inspections to catastrophic storm response, utilities are turning to drones to save money and improve safety in maintaining their networks of power lines and transmission towers, but remain hobbled by strict federal regulation of the aircraft. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

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.

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