Xcel Energy has received Federal Aviation Administration approval to use drones to inspect equipment and infrastructure.

Michael Lamb, vice president of operating services for Xcel Energy, said the use of drones for inspections isn't new. The company has already used unmanned aircraft inside three of its power plants in Minnesota. The FAA approval will allow it to take the devices outside.

"Clearly there are opportunities to inspect transmission lines – and to even inspect underground natural gas lines," Lamb said.

The small eight-rotor drones, which have not been purchased yet, could serve in a variety of ways. One example: using "sniffer" sensors to detect gas leaks after a severe storm, said the Argus Leader. 

According to the Argus Leader, the company's next step is to develop some test cases in the next few months that it can study before broadening their use.

The use of drones has potential to save the company up to $100,000 per inspection and provide better safety for workers, the article said.