anoffshoreelCalifornia utility files permit application for a three-year study that could lead to a 100 MW wave power project near Vandenberg Air Force Base.

San Francisco’s Pacific Gas & Electric said today it filed a filed a preliminary permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a three-year study of a potential wave power site with a capacity of up to 100 megawatts off the coast of northern Santa Barbara County.

If the study is successful, the utility proposes the installation of wave energy conversion devices that would feed into the electrical grid at Vandenberg Air Force Base. PG&E said it already signed an agreement with the U.S. Air Force to allow it to conduct the study.

PG&E has received approval from FERC to conduct environmental studies of a potential wave power site off the coast of Humboldt County. The utility says it plans to give a maximum of four wave energy converter (WEC) manufacturers the chance to test their devices.

The five-year trial is expected to be installed in fall 2013.

Humboldt County was also the proposed site of a 100 MW wave installation from Vancouver, British Columbia’s Finavera Renewables .

Finavera signed a separate deal for a 2 MW wave energy project with PG&E in late 2007, but the deal fell apart in October 2008 when the state Public Utilities Commission rejected it for not being an economical source of power. Finavera has since redirected its focus to wind.

PG&E said today it only plans to pursue the Santa Barbara project if studies show the project will not have significant negative environmental and economical effects.

The wave energy sector has struggled to find its footing, as several high projects have failed. Among them is Edinburgh, Scotland-based Pelamis Wave Power, which shelved its 2.25-MW project in Portugal this year after technical and financial problems.

However, PG&E noted that 300 MW of electricity are generated by the oceans today. California could meet 20 percent of its energy demand by harnessing wave power, the utility said.

Marine energy could deliver 10 percent of the world’s energy needs, about 7 percent or 8 percent from wave energy and the remainder from tidal projects, according to a report last year from industry analysts Frost & Sullivan.

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