By David R. Baker
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — Long-running efforts to tap the ocean’s immense energy as a power source have suffered another setback.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has suspended its WaveConnect project off the Humboldt County coast. The project would have used buoys bobbing in the Pacific to generate electricity.
PG&E, based in San Francisco, planned the Humboldt project as a way to test different wave-power devices. But the cost of securing government permits, installing the devices and putting in place the infrastructure needed to bring their power to shore made the project untenable, said company spokesman Brian Swanson.
“The big factor was this was new and unproven technology,” he said. “We’re still committed to wave energy, and we’ll still look for opportunities along the California coast, including Humboldt.”
The utility is still studying the possibility testing wave-power devices in the waters off Vandenberg Air Force Base, on the central California coast. The base occupies a bend in the coast, with some of its beaches facing west and others facing south, picking up swells from different directions. Swanson said that project could prove to be more economical, because the site near Vandenberg could accommodate far more wave-power devices than Humboldt, generating far more electricity.
For years, wave power’s day has appeared to be just around the corner. But turning that corner has proved difficult.
Waves pack great energy into a small space. The machines needed to tap that energy can be as simple, in principle, as buoys tethered to the ocean floor, generating electricity as they move up and down. But those machines must be able to withstand the ocean’s punishment year after year.
PG&E already had to abandon another wave-power project. Three years ago, PG&E agreed to buy electricity from a “wave park” of buoys that Canadian company Finavera planned to build near Eureka. But Finavera’s prototype buoy sank during a test, and California energy regulators blocked the deal.