Xcel Energy said this week it will be the first U.S. utility to routinely use drones beyond an operator’s line of sight.

Minneapolis-based Xcel has had federal approval to use drones to inspect power lines and gas pipelines since 2015. Until now, though, the company had to operate drones within eyeshot.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently authorized Xcel to fly drones into places where an operator can’t see the aircraft.

Starting this summer, Xcel will operate drones beyond visual line of sight in an area about 20 miles north of Denver International Airport. Colorado and Minnesota are Xcel’s two biggest electricity markets.

Licensed pilots will remotely operate the drone, a “small unmanned helicopter weighing less than 55 pounds,” the company says.

Drones are considered cheaper, safer and more efficient than using manned aircraft for aerial inspections.

When Xcel completes its new drone inspections in the Denver area, the company says it will work with the FAA to extend similar reconnaissance to other states it serves.

No word, though, on when the beyond-the-line-of-sight drones might come to Minnesota.

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