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Xcel Launches North Dakota's First Unmanned Aircraft for Utility Flight
Post Date: Oct 29 2015

By WDAY News
Xcel Energy launched North Dakota's first Federal Aviation Administration-sanctioned utility flight of an unmanned aircraft Wednesday.

The drone, which measures about 4½ feet in length, resembles a small helicopter and is being used to inspect a 7-mile section of an electrical transmission line as part of an FAA pilot project.

The 230-kilovolt line runs from Xcel's Prairie substation in Grand Forks to the Canadian border, where it connects with Manitoba Hydro Electric Energy.

The section was rebuilt after a grass fire moved through the area in the spring.

Wednesday's demonstration was limited by a wind advisory that kept the aircraft within 50 feet of the ground. Those in attendance included state, University of North Dakota and Grand Forks regional and business leaders.

"It's an exciting day for our company and customers when we can show how new technology protects and improves energy reliability and safety,'' said Chris Clark, Xcel Energy regional president. "We'll explore any opportunity that can lower cost, improve employee safety and minimize environmental impact."

"Our people are safer on the ground than they are in the air," said Greg Bennett, Xcel's regional vice president of distribution operations.

In addition to inspections, the technology can be used in security flights to assess damage and construction work.

"North Dakota is home to diverse and exciting economic development opportunities in the unmanned aerial systems industry," said North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who attended the demonstration. "We are pleased to have Xcel Energy utilizing this cutting edge technology to deliver greater electric reliability to North Dakota residents and leading the way for other companies."

Xcel is working with Flot Systems, a Colorado-based company that specializes in aerial inspections for the electric utility industry. The aircraft being used is a Pulse Aerospace Vapor 35, a 35-pound drone that can fly along transmission lines and other equipment while transmitting images and data to a ground station.

Xcel also is working with UND and the Energy and Environmental Research Center on the project, said Mark Nisbet, Xcel's North Dakota principal manager.

"This is something the whole state is interested in," Nisbet said. "The opportunities appear to be limitless."

Xcel Launches North Dakota's First Unmanned Aircraft for Utility Flight - WDAY News
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