Tenneco Solar Farm

The former Federal-Mogul brake-production facility at 2410 Papermill Road in Winchester, which is now owned by Tenneco, is seen on Tuesday morning. Tenneco has proposed converting the 44.8-acre property into a solar farm.

WINCHESTER — For the first time in a decade, there is hope that something new could be coming to the former Federal-Mogul production facility at 2410 Papermill Road.

The Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA) was advised on Tuesday morning that a $49,900 state grant has been awarded to the current owner of the 44.8-acre site, Tenneco of Lake Forest, Illinois, to evaluate the property and determine if it could be used for a solar farm that would generate electricity for nearby businesses or surplus power for Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, which is the utility company that serves Winchester.

The study of the Tenneco brownfield — a word that refers to land tainted with hazardous materials, pollutants or contaminants from previous manufacturing processes — is expected to begin within the next few weeks and will take up to four months to complete.

The manufacturing facility at 2410 Papermill Road produced Abex-brand brake pads and components from 1947 to 2013. The plant operated as Abex Friction Products until it was acquired by Federal-Mogul in 1998. Twenty years later, in October 2018, Federal-Mogul was bought out by Tenneco.

Tenneco's Winchester property has been problematic for both the company and the city. When the brake-production facility closed in 2013, hazardous materials that had been leeching into the soil for 66 years were left behind.

According to a United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on the site, lead and asbestos were used in the factory's manufacturing process until 1988, but those contaminants were subsequently contained and managed in landfills on the property. Of bigger concern to the EPA was a solvent known as trichloroethene (TCE) that had been used by Federal-Mogul and which threatened to contaminate groundwater.

In December 2018, the EPA and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality completed an extensive process to clean up or contain the hazardous materials. The landfills with lead and asbestos are fenced in, have protective coverings above and below ground and are prohibited from being excavated or disturbed, and the use of groundwater at the site has been restricted until all the remaining contaminants in the soil have broken down.

"There are monitoring wells on site to ensure that it [the contaminants] isn't leaking out or going anywhere," City Manager Dan Hoffman said on Tuesday.

Due to the hazardous materials that remain in the soil, the EPA has prohibited the Federal-Mogul campus from being developed for residential purposes. The property can be used for limited commercial applications but, until now, Tenneco has shown little interest in redeveloping or selling the site.

About three months ago, Tenneco came up with the idea of building a solar farm at 2410 Papermill Road and asked the Winchester EDA to apply on its behalf for a $49,900 Virginia Brownfields Restoration and Economic Redevelopment Assistance Fund Site Assessment and Planning Grant from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. The grant, which can only be sought by a government agency, was approved by the state earlier this month and will be used by Tenneco to conduct a feasibility study to determine if an array of solar panels can be safely installed and operated on the property without disturbing the subsurface contaminants.

"There's a state [Department of Environmental Quality] program, Brightfields, that helps transition brownfield sites to sites that have solar installations and create clean energy," Winchester Development Services Director Shawn Hershberger said on Tuesday.

Hershberger announced earlier this month that he is leaving his position with the city on May 27 to accept a job with the private firm Energix Renewables, an Arlington-based company that develops and constructs renewable energy production facilities (i.e. solar and wind power) for local governments. On Tuesday, Hershberger said his decision to join the staff of Energix is totally unrelated to Tenneco's plan to build a solar facility, and that Energix would most likely not be interested in a project that is relatively small when compared to the installations it has overseen in other municipalities.

"This stems from ongoing conversations with the property owner to try to figure out some sort of resolution," Hershberger said about Tenneco's solar farm proposal. "The concept actually came from the engineering firm that they work with."

That firm is CHA Companies Inc. of Albany, New York. A message left on Tuesday morning with CHA Senior Project Manager Tricia Cioni, who worked with the EDA on the grant application, was not returned by late Tuesday afternoon.

If the feasibility study determines that a solar farm could safely operate on the 44.8-acre Tenneco site, Hershberger said Tenneco would then decide if it wants to install and operate the solar farm itself or have another company lease the property to install and manage a solar energy system.

"It will probably be at least a few years before there's any real action," Hershberger said.

Earlier this year, Winchester implemented regulations governing where and how solar energy systems can be used. According to the policy, the Highway Commercial (B-2) zoning already in place at 2410 Papermill Road would allow for the operation of a solar farm.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(2) comments

Mr Incredible

Have fun getting the glare study for the airport approved.

Catherine Giovannoni

Great use for that property.

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