Babcock Ranch describes itself as the first solar-powered town in America. It produces more electricity than its 2,000 homes need.
Three years ago, when Anthony Grande made a decision to move away from Fort Myers, Florida, a major factor in his decision was the hurricane risk. He has spent almost 19 years in southwest Florida, living through hurricanes Charley in 2004 and Irma in 2017, and witnessing the damage that heavier storms cause to the coast. Grande told CNN that in a state that's becoming more vulnerable to record-breaking storm surges, catastrophic winds and epic rainfall, he wanted to find a new home where climate resiliency was valued by developers. Babcock Ranch was what he discovered; it's only 12 miles northeast of Fort Myers, but it feels like a lifetime away.
Babcock Ranch describes itself as the first solar-powered town in America. Its solar array made up of 700,000 individual panels produces more electricity than its 2,000 homes need. In this perfectly planned neighborhood, the streets were built to flood so that houses wouldn't. Along roadways, native landscaping helps stormwater management. To prevent wind damage, power and internet lines are buried. In addition to all of this, Florida's strict building regulations were followed.
Read this. Around Hurricane Ian’s destruction, a…solar…lining. This 100% solar community in Florida endured Hurricane Ian with no loss of power and minimal damage. H/t to @aaja member @rachjuramirez for a great story on adaptability and solutions to our changing climate. 👏 https://t.co/hnKcc0x7qY— Ramy Inocencio (@RamyInocencio) October 2, 2022
As a second line of defense against power disruptions, some people, like the 58-year-old Grande, increased the number of solar panels on their roofs and added battery systems. Many people drive electric vehicles, taking full advantage of solar energy in the Sunshine State. To withstand more powerful storms, climate resilience was incorporated into the town's design. So this week, when Hurricane Ian barreled toward southwest Florida, it was a real test for the neighborhood. The storm's record-breaking surge and gusts of over 100 mph completely destroyed the surrounding Fort Myers and Naples towns. More than 2.6 million consumers in the state lost power as a result of Hurricane Ian, including 90% of Charlotte County. The lights in Babcock Ranch, however, remained on. “It certainly exceeded our expectations of a major hurricane,” said Grande. Other than tearing shingles off roofs and uprooting some trees, the storm, according to Grande, did not do any significant damage.
Climate conscious construction and renewable energy handle Ian’s direct hit like a champion, while traditional construction and fossil fuel energy get knocked out. It’s time to elect leader that want to move forward into the 21st century, not backwards. https://t.co/QFryI6QEkj— Mikal D. Williams (@MikalDWilliams) October 2, 2022
Babcock Ranch, according to its citizens, is evidence that a solar-powered, eco-conscious community can weather the fury of a cyclone with a near-Category 5 wind speed. “We have proof of the case now because [the hurricane] came right over us,” said Nancy Chorpenning, a 68-year-old Babcock Ranch resident. “We have water, electricity, internet — and we may be the only people in Southwest Florida who are that fortunate.”
Grande claimed that Hurricane Ian moved "like a freight train" through southwest Florida. But unlike when he lived in Fort Myers, he wasn't concerned that he would lose everything in a storm. “We’re very, very blessed and fortunate to not be experiencing what they’re experiencing now in Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach,” Grande said. “In the times that we’re living in right now with climate change, the beach is not the place to live or have a business.”
Babcock Ranch was conceptualized by Syd Kitson, a former professional football player for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys. In Kitson's vision, it would be a secure, forward-thinking eco-conscious neighborhood that is resilient to storms like Ian. Florida Power and Light, which developed and maintains the solar array, began development on the ranch in 2015, and the town's first residents moved in in 2018. Since then, the number of people living in Babcock has grown and the array's size has increased.
“It’s a great case study to show that it can be done right if you build in the right place and do it the right way,” said Lisa Hall, a spokesperson for Kitson, who also lives in Babcock Ranch. “Throughout all this, there’s just so many people saying, ‘it worked, that this was the vision, this is the reason we moved here,’” said Hall.
Good news: building in resilience (local solar, buried cables, robust stormwater control) can work pretty well.— Chris Rowan (@Allochthonous) October 2, 2022
However, all this likely comes at a cost that puts it well out of reach for the most vulnerable populations, absent state intervention. https://t.co/MUZ1Vs7nlc
The fact that some of Ian's hardest-hit victims are now finding safety in the city may be the city's best recommendation. Even though Babcock Neighborhood School lacked the required generator, the state nonetheless opened it as an official shelter. The lights were kept on by the solar array. “They’re going to be renting a place over here for a while, while they figure out what’s going to happen out there,” Chorpenning said of some of her friends crashing with her while the storm passes. “I joked that we may be the only people in southwest Florida whose property value just increased.”
Babcock residents argue that their neighborhood is a model for urban development in a climate change-ravaged future. “It’s not what it was 20 or 25 years ago; the storms are getting bigger and bigger, and it’s no surprise because the warnings have all been there,” Grande said. “I think Babcock Ranch’s future has gotten even brighter.”
This is a developing story, and we’ll update you as we learn more. Information about Hurricane Ian is swiftly changing, and Upworthy is committed to providing the most recent and verified updates in our articles and reportage. However, considering the frequency in developments, some of the information/data in this article may have changed since the time of publication. You can get official alerts and updates on Hurricane Ian from the National Hurricane Center.