Grid and windmills

Michael Ahern Brings Expertise in Power Industry to State Steering Committee

Goal is to formulate plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050

September 26, 2019
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As he participates in a newly formed state steering committee that will help develop a plan to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions in the years ahead, Michael Ahern spoke of the personal stake he shares in such an endeavor and the history of environmental action that tells him it can be done.

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Michael Ahern alt
Michael Ahern

“I’m a grandfather now and this only adds to my realization that our planet is a kind of lifeboat for all of us,” said Ahern, director of Power Systems in the Academic and Corporate Engagement Department at WPI, and an instructor in the Foisie Business School (FBS).

“I remember what the U.S. was like back when I graduated from WPI in 1978,” he said. “This was about the beginning of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act successes. At that time, we had smog alerts and it would be unhealthy to let your skin touch many of our rivers.

“My IQP (Independent Qualifying Project) concerned cleaning up the Nashua River here in Central Massachusetts," he said, "and now the water quality is greatly improved,” Ahern said. “As a result, I know that public policy and enabling technology can really make a difference in our shared environment.“

So Ahern has accepted the invitation of state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides to join a 20-member 80x50 Study Academic Steering Committee assembled to help develop a study and strategies for Massachusetts to meet a self-imposed mandate requiring at least an 80 percent reduction in 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2050.

In her letter of invitation, the secretary cited Ahern’s “important work in electric utility operations” as a reason he was selected to serve on the committee.

Even before coming to WPI in 2012, Ahern had built a widely respected career over more than 30 years in the electric power industry, serving as a member of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Research Advisory Committee and on a number of study steering committees for the Connecticut Society of Scientists and Engineers.

At WPI, he has been active in the university’s annual Energy Symposium and its robust graduate Electrical and Computer Engineering/Power Systems Engineering Programs, as well as in federally sponsored Power Grid Cybersecurity research work.

Ahern leads a group that develops graduate curriculum for many of the 1,000+ working professionals who are part-time WPI graduate students. He also has taught the FBS graduate course in Risk Management and Decision Making, and has developed and taught several customized professional development courses for a variety of industry sponsors.

“Michael has a great background as both a practitioner and an academic, through his previous work in the utility sector, as well as his current role as Director of Power Systems at WPI,” said Claire Miziolek, who is leading the state’s 18-month study and developing a roadmap for achieving the 2050 goal of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a primary cause of global warming and its effects on climate change. “Mike has already brought valuable insights to the committee and we are looking forward to his future contributions.”

Provide advice, insights and feedback

Ahern and his fellow steering committee members will provide advice, insights, and feedback to Miziolek and consultants preparing the study and plans.

“The Committee has members from many of the state’s top universities, with expertise in building energy use, economics, equity, land use, power, public health, and transportation,” Ahern said. “The Committee has already met, discussed the study, and provided some initial feedback. We’ve had follow-up communications and we’ll continue to do so over the duration of the study.

“On a personal level," he said, "I’ve contributed feedback and been able to share previous research on emissions reductions in the electric power industry.”

Miziolek said the goal of the 80x50 Study is to identify the strategies, policies, and implementation pathways for Massachusetts to achieve the 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction or more by 2050, provide the setting of a greenhouse gas emissions limit for 2030, and develop a portfolio of actions that can help the Commonwealth meet the 2030 emissions limit. “The study will dive deep into five sectors (buildings, transportation, electricity, land use, and non-energy) and characterize the costs and benefits of policy implementation, including impacts on public health and climate change resilience,” she said.

“The final products of the effort will be several reports, including a clean energy and climate plan for 2030 and a roadmap to 2050. Members of the Academic Steering Committee lend their expertise to help the study consider and incorporate the latest science. The committee will meet from now through 2020 to help provide input on the study.”

I know that public policy and enabling technology can really make a difference in our shared environment.
- Michael Ahern

Ahern said he is “pleased to represent WPI and contribute to the state’s roadmap for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.”

“I believe my experiences during my 30-plus years working in the power industry make me well suited for this role,” he said. “My active involvement in developing graduate curriculum for WPI is also related since the roadmap to emissions reductions will surely include evaluation of a variety of technologies and policy options.”

Ahern praised efforts at WPI to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and otherwise contribute to a cleaner environment.

“The WPI Community can be proud of its accomplishments led by the Office of Sustainability,” he said. “Our Facilities group has successfully reduced our energy consumption and resulting impact of the environment.”

“Further, I’m impressed by the level of student participation through efforts like the Green Team, and I’ve participated in the campus-wide formulation of Sustainability Plans,” he added. “Also, I’ve more regularly used public transportation whenever possible, like using the commuter rail line to go to functions at WPI’s Seaport facility in Boston.”

-By Thomas Coakley