DAVID R. BAKER, San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 2009
The utility reported Friday that it has signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to study the area’s potential for a wave power project. If approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project could one day generate as much as 100 megawatts of electricity. A megawatt is a snapshot figure, roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 750 average homes at any given instant.
Wave power technologies have the potential to provide large amounts of electricity. But they have been slow to leave the lab.
The typical wave power system consists of buoys that generate electricity as they bob up and down on the ocean’s surface. But the ocean has proven tougher than some of the systems.
PG&E two years ago agreed to buy electricity from a proposed “wave park” near Eureka to be built by Canadian company Finavera. But Finavera’s prototype buoy sank during a test, and California energy regulators killed the deal.
Under its $6 million WaveConnect program, PG&E is still studying potential wave park sites off Humboldt County. The utility, based in San Francisco, also examined the Mendocino County coast before ruling it out.
Vandenberg makes an attractive test site. It occupies a bend in the coast of Santa Barbara County where some of the beaches face west, some face southwest and others face south. PG&E in particular wants to study the area between Point Arguello and Point Conception.
“Generally, that piece of the coast is very active for waves,” said PG&E spokesman Kory Raftery. “It picks up swells from different directions.”
If the company wins federal approval, it will study the area for three years before making a decision on whether to test wave power devices there. The company wants to test several different devices but has not yet picked which ones, Raftery said.