NIPSCO plans to use drones to inspect its power lines as it embarks on a system modernization project.

The Merrillville-based electric and gas utility said it will use advanced drone technology to identify any deficiencies on or issues with its power lines. It's retained a new contractor to do aerial inspections.

The drones will be piloted by a Federal Aviation Administration commercially licensed pilot.

"It will be used to produce detailed aerial images and sensor data of overhead power lines, electrical substations, transmission towers and vegetation clearance needs within utility right-of-ways," NIPSCO announced in a news release. "The company has contracted PrecisionHawk, LLC, who has a team of experienced UAS pilots, engineers and project managers that will conduct over 30 miles of initial inspections in Hobart, Merrillville and Valparaiso ... during the fourth quarter of this year, with plans to conduct more inspections in the future."

The company will announce its inspection routes in advance. The drones will fly about 50 to 100 feet above the ground near power lines with a licensed operator within a quarter-mile of the drone.

NIPSCO will only fly the drones during the day along flight paths coordinated by authorities and nearby airports. The drones will not fly directly over anyone though they may travel over one's land, the company said.

"The company will not take video of the selected inspection routes, nor will it sell any of the information collected to outside companies," NIPSCO said in the news release.

The company also warned "that it is unlawful to interfere with drone operations or attempt to damage a drone during a flight operation."
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