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Proposed Hydroelectric Plant Will Power Allegheny County Buildings By 2023

The downtown Pittsburgh skyline on a sunny, clear summer day.
Keith Srakocic
Allegheny County plans to power it's government buildings with a hydroelectric power plant starting in 2023, a move Joylette Portlock from Sustainable Pittsburgh applauds.

On today's program: Sustainable Pittsburgh executive director Joylette Portlock explains a planned hydroelectric plant signals the county’s commitment to renewable energy; Struggling tenants and landlords are still waiting for millions of dollars in rent relief allocated for the state; and the Frick Art Museum looks at its history and that of its founder, Helen Clay Frick in an exhibit.

Sustainable Pittsburgh executive director on the county’s upcoming hydroelectric plant
(0:00 — 6:27) 

Plans have been unveiled to construct a low-impact hydroelectric plant on the Ohio River at the Emsworth Dam that’s intended to power all Allegheny County buildings by 2023.

Rye Development will build the facility which will cost about $50 million and create 150 to 200 construction jobs. 

“The benefits of doing an agreement like this are cost savings, risk reduction against market price increases, pollution reduction,” explains Joylette Portlock, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, which is a partner in this project. “But also, I think it’s important to note that this is a change in the conversation of really improving our conception of what’s possible.

Rye Development CEO Paul Jacobs said in the project announcement that waiting this long to construct this plant has been, in a sense, wasting energy. The plant will soon replace the work of fossil fuels. 

Portlock says this project is particularly timely in light of the existing impacts from climate change. 

“I think that, really, leadership is about having a responsibility for creating the conversation and setting the course and innovating in a way for building a better future,” says Portlock. “I do think that it’s important and, for this region anyway, innovative to really be looking at our rivers as a resource in ways that impact how we are producing energy and electricity.”

Despite millions allocated, many missed out on pandemic rental assistance from the state
(6:30 — 11:28)

Millions of dollars that had been set aside by the state for pandemic-related rent relief never made it to struggling tenants and landlords

In a joint reporting project with PublicSource, 90.5 WESA’s Kate Giammarise examines what went wrong, and how officials can avoid repeating mistakes with new federal assistance.

“The Frick Reflects” asks viewers to consider the legacy and impact of the  museum and its founder
(11:30 — 18:00)

With the latest round of statewide COVID-19 mitigation measures lifted, museums are allowed to reopen with now-familiar rules: masks, limited capacity and social distancing. 

The entire Frick campus reopened recently, and one exhibit visitors have one more week to see focuses on the Frick's history called “The Frick Reflects: Look Back, Moving Forward.”

The Frick Art Museum was founded 50 years ago, and the Clayton home was restored just 30 years ago. However, the Clay Frick family lived at the Clayton home more than a hundred years ago, and the museum holds Helen Clay Frick’s personal collection of fine and decorative art. 

“This is an exhibition that really takes a look at our origin story through the lens of many of the questions we’re all asking in America and around the world now. We’re thinking about how organizations participate in the construction of knowledge,” explainsElizabeth Barker, the museum’s executive director. 

Barker says Clay Frick, born in 1888, would not have called herself a feminist and staunchly believed in Victorian values. 

“This felt like an ideal moment for us to think a little bit about our founder, this extraordinary woman, Helen Clay Frick,” says Barker. “I wish I could have met her. I think she was fierce.”

However, she led an unconventional life. She never married or had children, but spent much of her life with a career as a philanthropist. 

“When her father [Henry Clay Frick] passed away, she became the wealthiest unmarried woman in the United States.”

Barker says open-ended questions throughout the exhibit encourage visitors to consider the extraordinary privilege Clay Frick grew up with, especially regarding race, wealth, and structures of power. The exhibit also turns the lens inward on the museum, Helen Clay Frick’s legacy. 

“You can fix a problem you won’t own,” says Barker. 

“The Frick Reflects” is available to view at the The Frick Art Museum until February 7.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.


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