Crashing waves and rushing currents may become a power source for Santa Barbara County, following a new coastline study near Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Pacific Gas & Electric is looking to install energy converters in the ocean from Jamal Beach to Point Conception in order to transform coastal current into electricity. The company is waiting for permission from the federal government to begin studying the area in preparation for construction.

The study will analyze 16 miles of coastline over three years and is expected to begin in the next several months.

Vandenberg Air Force Base Energy Manager Brad King said the strong waves make the area ideal for energy converters.

“This area has potentially good wave recourses,” King said. “Also, there is boat access to the area through our boat house, as well as a dock large enough for the size of these structures and a high voltage grid for PG&E to connect to.”

The project, called Central Coast WaveConnect, is the second ocean-energy conversion venture for PG&E. A pilot development program has already begun in Humboldt, Calif.

Company Spokesman Kory Raftery said the first project already has federal approval.

“The pilot project in Humboldt is under the preliminary permit phase,” Raftery said. “We received grants from the Department of Energy along with the California Public Utilities Commission and expect both projects combined to cost around $6 million.”

If the federal government approves the Santa Barbara study, PG&E would look for environmental impacts and energy potential.

“Right now, we’re doing desktop studies, but we anticipate the permit to be granted this spring,” Raferty said. “This permit does not give us any right to construction or disturbance; we can study the geography and topography of the location.”

Though wave energy could be a source of sustainable and environmentally friendly power, some environmentalists have doubts about the project.

The Santa Barbara Community Environmental Council are hesitant to support wave-energy construction in the area. Council Renewable Energy Specialist Megan Birney said the council is concerned about potential impacts on fishing communities.

A number of different energy converters have the potential to create electricity from ocean currents, including underwater pressure-sensitive devices that use changes in water pressure to create energy and floating devices called attenuators that create power from movement along the ocean surface.

The exact structures that could be used for the project
have been narrowed to four different types of wave energy converters. During the three years of study, PG&E will choose the most suitable converters for the area.

The City of Santa Barbara would not directly benefit from wave energy created near Vandenberg, but King said energy created in the area would affect the balance of electrical power in and around the county.