ENERGY QUEST USA visits five very different American communities, from Alaska to the East Coast, and Portland to Fort Worth, where citizens are making smart energy choices based on economics and the environment. Their experiences chart a path every U.S. community can follow to take charge of their energy future and adapt to the challenges climate change may bring.

In Kansas, the 2011 “Take Charge! Challenge” pitted 16 communities against each other in an energy efficiency competition, with four prizes of $100,000 each for the winning towns. Nancy Jackson, founder of the Climate+Energy Project, says her goal is to reset the norm for energy consumption in the heartland, “putting the ‘conserve’ back in ‘conservative’” and promoting what she sees as a “win-win-win” proposition — save money, build local economies and insure a healthier energy future.


In Baltimore, Maryland, the city’s Sustainability Office launched a Neighborhood Energy Challenge with surprising results: last year, low-income Park Heights’ homeowners conserved more energy on average than residents of gentrified Carroll Park, saving as much as $1,300 a year through simple measures like weather-stripping and reduced water use. The message is an important one in the economic downturn, putting much-needed money in the pockets of people in hard-hit areas like Baltimore.

In Alaska — a state known for oil drilling — diesel fuel used to heat homes and keep native communities livable can cost up to a whopping $9 per gallon. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R), a member of the Senate Energy Committee and a strong proponent for oil and gas, shares why she is committed to making renewable energy — such as, low-emissions heating fuel created from wood waste, and innovative low-temperature geothermal turbines powered by the Chena Hot Springs — part of the state’s power portfolio.

Then it’s on to Fort Worth, Texas, a city that sits atop major natural gas reserves and has experienced a boom due to hydrofracking, yet is also invested in what locals call “cowboy sustainability.” From a Water Reclamation Facility that hopes to harvest 90% or more of its energy from the waste it processes, to beautiful LEED Platinum buildings, Fort Worth is a microcosm of America’s potential for positive response to its energy challenges and choices.

The final segment, filmed in one of America’s greenest cities, Portland, Oregon, underscores the tremendous payoff we’ll earn in the future from making smart choices now. Congressman Earl Blumenauer explains that decisive action three decades ago — trading highway funds for bikeway and mass transit funds, for example — achieved the sustainability that has stimulated a vibrant economy and given residents today such an attractive quality of life. In a political climate in which “going green” is often associated with a liberal agenda, ENERGY QUEST USA sends a strong message that, in the words of Republican Senator Murkowski, “We need to get beyond the political labels when it comes to energy opportunities.” Instead, we ought to get back to the all-American values of saving a buck, tackling problems head-on, working together in our communities, and looking out for the future of our kids and our country.

Video Segments

Watch individual video segments from Energy Quest USA, then LIKE, TWEET and SHARE them with your friends. See all Segments


Host Richard Alley and a diverse roster of inspiring Earth "operators" from all over the world are proving it's possible to do things differently.

Meet the cast

Richard Alley, Program host Richard Alley is a Professor of Geosciences at the Penn State University, winner of the 2009 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He once worked for an oil company, is a contributor to the UN panel on climate change (the IPCC), has testified to Congress about climate change, and served as a “tour guide” to Senators visiting the glaciers of Greenland. As he says about himself during the program: “I’m a registered Republican, play soccer on Saturdays, and go to church on Sundays. I’m a parent and a professor. I worry about jobs for my students and my daughters’ future.” Alley is the author of the companion book to the special, published by W. W. Norton & Company.

Daniel Yergin, energy expert, CEO of IHS-Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and author of the New York Times best-seller The Quest.

Shirley Jackson, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and former head of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Cliff Davidson, board chairman, Kodiak Electric Association, Kodiak Island, Alaska. KEA is a locally owned energy cooperative that runs the Pillar Mountain Wind Project and the Terror Lake hydroelectric project.

Darron Scott, president and CEO, Kodiak Electric Association.

John Whiddon, general manager of Island Seafoods on Kodiak Island, Alaska, a processing plant that runs 100 percent on renewable energy.

Al "Bear" Ketzler, City Manager of Tanana, Alaska, a remote and mainly Native Alaskan village, located at the confluence of the Yukon and Tanana Rivers, that increasingly relies on biomass and solar power.

Gwen Holdmann, director of the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, part of the team that developed Alaska’s first geothermal production plant, and Iditarod musher who has lived "off the grid" for her 17 years in Alaska.

Nancy Jackson, founder of the Climate+Energy Project, Kansas. "At the end of the day the atmosphere doesn’t care one whit what people think. The atmosphere cares what people do."

Susan Anderson, Sustainability Director for the City of Portland, Oregon.

George Beard, Portland State University and promoter of the "Electric Avenue" e-vehicle test site.

Alice Kennedy, coordinator of the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senate Energy Committee member and a strong proponent for oil and gas. "I'm a Republican. Republicans by definition are seemingly more conservative. What is more conservative than harnessing what is available and around us in a long-term sustainable way?"

Bernie Karl, inventor, entrepreneur and owner of the Chena Hot Springs Resort. "If we harness two percent of the Earth's energy, that's 1000 times more energy than we consume!"

Betsy Price, mayor of Fort Worth, Texas and a cycling enthusiast.

Larry Brogdon, formerly a partner at Four Sevens Oil Co., an exploration and production company in Fort Worth, Texas, and currently teaching a course on energy, economics and environment.

Sebastian "Buster" Fichera, Asst. Water Dir., Water Pollution Control Division, Fort Worth Water Dept.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), 3rd District head of the House "Bike Caucus" and chair of the "Livable Cities" group.

Ken Wagner, mayor of Baldwin City, Kansas, and lucky winner of one of the $100,000 energy conservation prizes.

David Crane, CEO, NRG Energy. "I think the United States, led by the U.S. consumer market, will and can exercise leadership in this area, and the rest of the world will follow."


ENERGY QUEST USA was produced in High Definition and was taped in Portland Oregon; Fort Worth, Texas; Baltimore, Maryland; Hawaii; Mystic, Connecticut; Washington DC; Kodiak, Chena Hot Springs, and Fairbanks, Alaska; all across the state of Kansas; Princeton, New Jersey and at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York.

Additional Information

Check out the Annotated Script with links to the climate science and sustainable energy solutions seen in the program and Richard Alley’s Global Warming FAQS.

Energize Your School: ETOM for Educators. Links to register as an Educator and get access to download high resolution segments for in-class use, plus special resources for teachers and informal science educators.

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