Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced Friday that it has inked an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to study the feasibility of a wave-energy project off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base.

PG&E also filed a preliminary permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to study the site off the northern Santa Barbara County coast for three years.

If the findings are favorable, PG&E could seek a license to install “wave energy conversion” (WEC) devices capable of producing as much as 100 megawatts of power. (One megawatt is 1 million watts.)

The electricity would flow into the existing VAFB electrical grid, which in turn is connected to the PG&E grid, the utility company said.

Stefan Bocchino, a base spokesman, said in a statement that the pact is part of the installation’s move toward renewable energy.

“We are always looking to be good stewards of our environment’” Bocchino said. “As part of our initiative with PG&E to investigate potential for installation of wind turbines on Vandenberg AFB, PG&E proposed to include wave energy.

“We continue to strive for more clean energy to protect our environment. To this end, we are working with PG&E to study the feasibility of using wave energy in the future,”

Through its WaveConnect program, PG&E is seeking to install devices that convert energy from water movement or the natural temperature and salinity changes into usable power, according to a statement.

If granted, the FERC preliminary permit will allow PG&E to conduct baseline environmental studies. There will be no construction or any physical disturbance at the site during the study, according to PG&E.

Kory Raftery, a PG&E spokesman, said electricity from ocean waves is clean and dependable renewable energy.

“There are always waves,” he said Friday. “The sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.”

Called the Central Coast WaveConnect program, the study area is 16 miles long and 3 nautical miles wide off the Santa Barbara County coast between Point

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Arguello and Point Conception near Lompoc.

The proposed study area was chosen for its high quality wave energy; avoidance of known sensitive areas such as the Gaviota Coast and marine protected areas; relatively less-known fishing and recreational usage than other sites in the region; and convenient access to the existing transmission infrastructure at VAFB, PG&E said. 

If the project is permitted for construction in the future, the project footprint would be significantly smaller in size than the preliminary permit study area, PG&E said.

WEC devices under consideration float on the ocean surface or can be mounted on the sea floor and operate ideally at a water depth of 36 feet to 300 feet.

Raftery said WEC technology is continually evolving, and PG&E is open to considering any device proven to be efficient.

Lessons from a pilot study in Northern California’s Humboldt County will be used in the Central Coast project, Raftery said .

The local Community Environmental Council blueprint for renewable energy calls for 8.3 percent of the county's future energy sources  to come from the ocean.

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