Channel 2’s consumer adviser, Clark Howard, is passionate about solar power. So, when he heard about Babcock Ranch, the first solar-powered town in America, he needed to see it for himself.
Located 30 minutes northwest of Fort Meyers, the community is powered by over 300,000 solar panels and sits on 440 acres, making it one of the largest solar farms in North America.
Babcock Ranch has been in the works since 2005. It’s the brain child of developer Syd Kitson.
Kitson is proud to say Babcock Ranch is the first place in the world to have solar-to-battery technology.
“We have a 75-megawatt solar-powered generating facility that’s up and operating. They are about to double that."
While the town is still connected to Florida’s power grid, Kitson said his ultimate goal is to make it a microgrid city.
The solar field will be able to sustain over 19,000 homes. While the sea of blue is the largest innovation on display at Babcock Ranch, it’s not the only one.
Solar trees that give off power instead of oxygen are scattered around the town center. Visitors are able to charge their cellphones using them. A rain garden filters water runoff before it enters the wetlands, and autonomous shuttles curve through growing neighborhoods.
“We believe autonomous vehicles are not only here but here to stay. We’re very proud to be one of the first in the country to have an autonomous shuttle system here," Kitson said. He told Howard point-to-point pickup is the next step. “Where you can have a car pick you up and take you where you want to go. The next evolution of that is to maybe go off-site and have a car take you to the airport."
While this might seem like resort living, Kitson was quick to say it’s just the opposite. “A resort is where people go to vacation. This is a place where people come to live."
Richard and Robin Kinley were the first residents of Babcock Ranch. They are transplants form Atlanta, and the lake behind their home is named for them. Robin Kinley told Howard she believes this town is the way of the future.
“Things that are being done here, the use of native plants, the recycling of the water, the retention ponds, the construction methods, those are things that could be incorporated into many communities."
Homes start at $200,000 and offer a gigabyte of fiber optic connectivity at what Kitson believes is an affordable price. He told Howard the installation is not expensive when homes don’t need to be retrofitted.
Kitson told Howard Babcock Ranch isn’t geared to the wealthy or retired population. He wants to see families of all ages live there.
That’s why in 2017, Babcock Ranch Neighborhood School opened.
In 2018, 274 homes were sold in Babcock Ranch, and new residents move in each week. Kitson said that’s just the beginning.
“When you look at what can be done, it’s exciting. That’s what we’re trying to do. We want to create a true legacy. An example to the rest of the country and maybe the world that this can be done the right way," Kitson said.