Even before Michal Bay signed the paperwork to buy the old Mooresville Mills textile mill, he was thinking of what he could do with the 1.1 million square feet of available space.
Furniture outlet, restaurant, antique vendors mall, museum – now add power generating facility to the list.
The now-renamed Merino Mill recently began producing electricity from a bank of solar cells installed on the roof of two of the eight buildings in the complex, shut down and eventually abandoned by Burlington Industries in the late 1990s. “It’s a project that I believe in,” Bay said. “I believe in renewable energy, and this is the only way to do it. We all have to do our part, and this is mine.” The approximately 5,100 solar cells will generate nearly 1.6 megawatts of electricity per year, according to Bay – more than double what the complex uses annually to heat and cool the buildings that have already been renovated and put to use.
All the electricity produced is sold to Duke Energy; Merino Mill and its tenants then buy what’s needed from the utility. Current tenants are Merinos Home Furnishings, which occupies the most space (230,000 square feet) and is one of the largest furniture stores in the southeastern United States; Main Street Antiques, an 82,000-square-foot antiques mall that rents space to vendors; Alino Pizzeria, Barcelona Burgers and Brew, and a host of many other tenants. “This is the second-largest project in North Carolina, and when finished installing (solar cells) on all (of) the roof, it’ll be the largest,” Bay said.
Bay announced the solar project in 2012, but it took nearly three years before it was brought to fruition. Most of the time in between, according to Bay, was spent doing his homework – lining up the financing for the project, which he said cost $2.7 million; getting the permits in order, and designing and putting together all the parts and pieces.
“It wasn’t easy. You must get the financing ready, and you must build it up. As you do that, you learn the weak and strong points, so you can do a proper job.” Once all that was in place, the actual installation took little time in comparison – two months, according to Bay. “If you do your homework, the assembly is easy,” Bay said. “You have to get all the materials you need, double check it, then go to the roof and do it. Doing it is easy, but you have to have a good plan, good engineers, good electricians and just do it.”