Ameren Illinois using drones to detect power outages

Markets Associated Press

Ameren Illinois is using drones to detect power outages, inspect power lines and poles, and plan for construction projects.

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Ameren officials demonstrated the drones Tuesday in Urbana, The News-Gazette reported. The company has 36 drones and 18 trained pilots.

Kyle Maxwell, the company's superintendent of electrical operations and one of the licensed drone pilots, said a fully supplied drone and kit costs about $3,000.

"We've used them in several instances like up in LaSalle, where they've been used for pole-inspection work," Maxwell said.

Electric Initiative Manager Riley Adams said the drones heighten safety and save time, but that they have limitations. They can't be used after dark or within five miles of an airport control tower. Adams said the drones' range is about a mile.

"We intend to improve the safety for our employees. A lot of time, we'll send a lot of people down to walk through an off-road section, and they can be exposed to a lot of hazards, like creeks and downed wires and whatever," Adams said.

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Adams said the drones may be fitted with advanced technology in the future to detect issues such as natural-gas leaks.

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com