FAA approves Duke Energy drone testing


By Dave Faherty


Duke Energy received Federal Aviation Administration approval to test drone technology at the Marshall Steam Station in Catawba County.

Duke Energy said it could use drones to survey power lines, solar facilities and dams.

“Surveying transmission lines or even looking at the panels of a solar farm can give us a benefit to make the repairs cheaper and faster,” Randy Wheeless, with Duke Energy, said.

The drones can inspect all the panels in less than 30 minutes, where in the past it would take a worker a full day to complete the task, Duke Energy officials said.

Duke Energy currently uses helicopters to fly over power lines, which can be very costly.

The drones can fly lower to the ground and provide high-resolution images.

Some residents don’t think it’s a good idea.

“It’s a way to inspect the lines to service the lines, if necessary, without having to invade on your property,” Judy Punch said.

“It’s kind of a dangerous thing also considering all the planes and everything in the air,” Claude Bivens said.

The drone manufacturer said it uses a licensed, commercial pilot and operates well below other aircraft.
Duke Energy’s drones are still in the testing phase, officials said.

They understand concerns some have over privacy, but assured us it won’t be a problem.

“We’re very focused on our own assets,” Wheeless said. “We’re not really worried about a neighborhood that is not near one of our powerhouse or a transformer.”

They hope to make a decision to use drones in the next few months.