Florida solar city survives hurricanes, paves the way for sustainable living
KARAH RUCKER: HURRICANE SEASON IS ABOUT TO PICK UP STEAM AGAIN. WITH MANY COMMUNITIES IN THE U-S STILL PICKING UP THE PIECES FROM LAST SEASON – SOME ARE LOOKING TO LEARN LESSONS ANYWHERE THEY CAN.
AND IN FLORIDA – A PLACE KNOWN AS AMERICA’S FIRST SOLAR CITY – HAS NOW EARNED A REPUTATION AS THE CITY THAT SURVIVED HURRICANE IAN.
IT’S CALLED BABCOCK RANCH – A COMMUNITY 25 MILES NORTH OF FORT MYERS ON FLORIDA’S WEST COAST.
SYD KITSON | CEO KITSON & PARTNERS: “I can tell you, I was here. And we had sustained winds over 100 miles an hour, and we had gusts of over 150 miles an hour. And if you’ve ever experienced that, it’s like a freight train running through your house and it lasted for eight hours. I think if you talk to most of the people here at Babcock Ranch, they will tell you that the thing that mattered, most of them was the fact that not the electricity never went out, the internet never went out. And that’s because we worked with Florida Power and Light for eight years, and put a system together.”
SYD KITSON IS CEO OF KITSON & PARTNERS. THEY BEGAN DEVELOPING BABCOCK RANCH 17 YEARS AGO.
KITSON: “I consider myself a strong environmentalist. And I wanted to prove that a new city could work hand in hand with the environment.”
THE LAND DEAL TO MAKE BABCOCK HAPPEN REMAINS THE LARGEST IN STATE HISTORY.
KITSON @ 3:30ish “We stayed out of the wetlands as best as we possibly could. So that’s kind of how the shape of it came into being. But we ended up with 18,000 acres, and out of the 8000 acres, we’re preserving half of that. So really, at the end of the day, 90% of that original Ranch is in preservation forever and might be what we’re most proud of.”
BY PARTNERING WITH FLORIDA POWER AND LIGHT, THEY WERE ABLE TO BUILD 150 MEGAWATT SOLAR POWER GENERATING FACILITY WHICH INCLUDED 700-THOUSAND PANELS ON 840 ACRES. IT TOOK EIGHT YEARS, WHICH WAS PAID FOR – AT LEAST IN PART – WITH TAXPAYER DOLLARS.
KITSON: “During the day, when the sun is shining, Babcock Ranch is powered by solar energy, the entire town. And then we had a we had actually it was one of the first solar to battery facilities in the world that was built here 10 megawatts. The ultimate goal here would be for them to build a battery facility that actually can power this town through the night.”
EVENTUALLY, THAT SOLAR ENERGY WILL SUPPORT 55-THOUSAND PEOPLE IN 20-THOUSAND HOMES AND 6-MILLION SQUARE FEET OF COMMERCIAL SPACE.
KITSON: “We have apartments here, or we have single family rentals. We have townhouses, we have condos, we have single family homes, small, lot, large lot, median lot, you name it, we have here. And that’s what a town is all about. It’s that diversity that creates diversity of products creates a diversity of people. And that’s what makes one of the things that makes this place special.”
AS THE COMMUNITY GROWS, SO TOO WILL THE NEED FOR BATTERY STORAGE. DR. JENNIFER LANGUELL IS THE GREEN BUILDING ADVISER TO BABCOCK RANCH. SHE NOTES THAT BATTERY TECHNOLOGY IS RAPIDLY CHANGING, AND THAT AS THOSE ADVANCES ARE MADE AND IMPLEMENTED – THE COMMUNITY ALSO HAS BUILT-IN POWER REDUNDANCIES, INCLUDING BEING TIED IN TO A NATURAL GAS POWER PLANT.
- JENNIFER LANGUELL | BABCOCK RANCH SUSTAINABILITY ADVISER: “The builders, we really focus on efficiency, resource efficiency, and whether it’s energy efficiency, water efficiency or materials, and help them fine tune where they want to go with green building.”
AND AS SEA LEVELS CONTINUE TO RISE – AND STORMS CONTINUE TO BATTER FLORIDA – SUSTAINABILITY IS TOP OF MIND FOR DEVELOPERS.
LANGUELL: “When we trained the builders, initially, we talked to them about durability. And we really wanted them to focus on durability, because Sid wanted a safe from the storm type community. He wanted people to be able to shelter in place.”
SAFETY FROM COASTAL STORMS WAS KITSON’S MAIN GOAL. SO HE CHOSE LAND THAT WAS NATURALLY 30 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL, BUILT THE COMMUNITY AROUND NATURAL WETLANDS THAT PREVENT FLOODING, BURIED ALL POWER LINES AND INCORPORATED STORMWATER DRAINS AND RETENTION PONDS. KITSON SAYS LOCATION, COUPLED WITH ECOLOGICAL PRESERVATION, ARE CRUCIAL TO FUTURE FLORIDA RESIDENCY.
KITSON: “It’s very, very important because, you know, as developers, we impact the land we have impacts and 1000 people a day are moving to Florida. A lot of that reason is because of the natural resources, our beaches, the water, the landscapes, I mean, they come down here, this floor is beautiful. If we destroy that, there’s gonna be no reason for people to come down here. And we need to be thinking about our kids and our grandkids and we truly need this to be sustainable and to get back in and make sure all this works in a proper way. So the kind of planning that we’re doing, the idea that we can work with nature is incredibly important. And we’re proving that. And I’m hoping that because of that, that type of development will continue throughout the state of Florida, maybe even throughout the country. As we continue to grow, let’s do it the right way.”