Metcalf Institute

Home         About Us         News         Fellowships         Programs & Events         Resources         Support Metcalf

 Improving Communication of Oil Spill Research
 Science Seminars for Journalists
  Marine Science Seminar (2011)
  Science and Impacts of Toxic Chemicals (2010)
 Annual Public Lecture Series
 News Executives Roundtable
 Public Speaking Events
 National Park Service Media Workshop
 Science Communication and the News Media Workshops
 Science Seminars for News Editors
  Environment Beyond Politics (2004)
  Science Beyond Politics (2003)

Annual Public Lectures Series > Susan Tierney

Scientists and Journalists:
Getting the Point Across
June 8-11, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 3:30 p.m.
Transforming America's Energy Systems
Susan Tierney, The Analysis Group
Lecture Summary Prepared by Eleni Gesch-Karamanlidis

Also see: Video


The United States is heavily dependent on fossil fuel and much of its energy infrastructure is found along the coast, especially in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is home to many offshore gas fields, petroleum refineries and LNG plants. According to Susan Tierney, managing principal with Analysis Group and opening speaker in the Metcalf Institute 2010 Annual Public Lecture Series on Tuesday, June 8, Americans have enjoyed "cheap" energy relative to the rest of the world and have come to expect low-cost fuel. It seems that the cheaper the gas, the more each person consumes. The same seems apparent in coal country, which has the lowest electricity prices and high per capita usage. Cheap energy has created much resistance to change because new energy technology that threatens to raise prices does not usually garner much political acceptance.

Tierney pointed out that Cheap energy has spurned increased productivity in the U.S., but it comes with many unintended negatives such as oil spills and pollution. Our energy system is also vulnerable to the economic fluctuations of the fossil fuel market and to climate conditions. Climate conditions have an effect on the amount of fossil fuels collected, the way in which they are transformed into energy, how they are delivered to consumers and their ultimate consumption. The system's vulnerability to Mother Nature was demonstrated in 2005 when 75% of the Gulf's 4,000 drilling platforms were shut down because of Hurricane Rita.

As climate change has emerged as a hot topic in American policy in recent years, New England and Southwestern states have emerged as leaders in the renewable energy production race. Some New England states have vowed to substantially curb emissions within the next 15 years; sites for offshore wind farms have been identified in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts because of the suitable wind resources in these areas. Tierney noted that wind is an attractive energy source because peak wind speeds coincide with peak energy usage.

Moving forward with renewable energy production is difficult for several reasons, according to the speaker. First, firms are apprehensive of taking risks on new technology. Second, new technology means building new transmission lines, which could increase the cost of electricity for the consumer. Finally, most people agree that renewable energy technology is beneficial, but many are hesitant to see this technology in their own backyard.

Pursuing renewable energy technologies presents potential benefits that outweigh the costs. Future projections note that if energy production is allowed to continue on its current trend, carbon dioxide emissions could triple in the next 50 years. Tierney concluded by warning that the rapid increase in carbon dioxide emissions means that the longer we wait to do something about the rate of carbon dioxide emissions, the more reductions will be needed to avoid the tripling prediction.


Susan Tierney is a managing principal at Analysis Group, Inc., where she is an expert on economics, regulation and policy in the electric and gas industries and utility sector. She has consulted to business, industry, government, and other organizations on energy markets, economic and environmental regulation and strategy, and energy facility projects. She previously served as the assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Energy, and in various senior positions in state government in Massachusetts, including as the secretary for environmental affairs, commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, chairman of the Board of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, and executive director of the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Council. She recently chaired the Massachusetts Ocean Task Force and the Massachusetts Oceans Advisory Commission. Tierney co-chaired the Department of Energy Agency Review Team for the Obama/Biden Presidential Transition Team. She has authored numerous articles, speaks frequently at industry conferences and serves on a number of boards of directors and advisory committees, including those of the National Commission on Energy Policy and the Energy Foundation. She is on the board of directors of the Clean Air Task Force, Clean Air–Cool Planet, World Resources Institute, and is a director at Evergreen Solar. Inc., at EnerNOC, Inc., and at Ze-gen Inc. She chairs the Advisory Council of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and serves on the Environmental Advisory Council of the New York Independent System Operator, and the China Sustainable Energy Program's Policy Advisory Council. She has taught at the University of California at Irvine, currently teaches at MIT. Tierney earned her Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in regional planning at Cornell University. (June 8 public lecture) E-mail:

Return to Annual Public Lectures Series

Home | News @ Metcalf | Site Map | Contact Us

June 24, 2010