May 13,2016 - Solar Power, Eco-Centric Ethos Fuel Babcock Ranch
CEO and Chairman, Kitson & Partners
May 12, 2016
Solar Power, Eco-Centric Ethos Fuel Babcock Ranch
Cities around the world – from sprawling megalopolises to sleepy beach towns – are striving to make their public systems greener and more efficient, implementing everything from bus rapid transit to permeable sidewalks. It is impressive to watch municipalities, utilities and even private businesses overcome the challenges of pre-existing gray infrastructure and the high costs of retrofits. But it also inspires a question: what would a smart town look like if we designed it from the ground up?
The answer is Babcock Ranch, a first-of-its-kind, primarily solar-powered town near Fort Myers, Florida.
It all began in 2006, when my real estate development firm, Kitson & Partners, oversaw the purchase of the 91,000-acre Babcock Ranch, then immediately sold the vast majority of the land (73,000 acres) to the State of Florida in the largest land preservation purchase in the state’s history. The remaining 17,608 acres, an area larger than Manhattan, would become the town of Babcock Ranch.
We knew from the beginning that the town would be founded on core principles of sustainability, health and wellness, and cutting edge technology. Renewable energy was critical to that vision.
Despite the delay of the crushing economic downturn, we were never discouraged. During this time, we focused on forging a number of public and private partnerships, most notably with Florida Power & Light Company (FPL).
FPL has become integral to the new community and enabled us to create something more ambitious and innovative than previously imaginable: a 440-acre plot of land, housing a 74.5 megawatt Solar Energy Center, which will soon comprise 350,000 FPL solar panels.
FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center
BY THE NUMBERS
- 74.5-megawatts of solar capacity
- Located on 440 acres in Charlotte County
- Part of the future Babcock Ranch Community
- Serving FPL customers beginning 4Q 2016
When we first conceptualized a solar field to power Babcock Ranch, the cost of solar was still significantly higher than conventional power. In order to make the project cost-effective for the utility, we donated the land for the solar field to FPL.
Nearly a decade later, the FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center is on its way to powering FPL customers on the West Coast and the growth of Babcock Ranch. It is one of three such solar energy centers the company is building in Florida — the FPL Manatee and Citrus Solar Energy Centers.
The carbon reductions achieved through the FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center alone will be equivalent to removing 25,000 passenger vehicles from the road each day. And because installation of the solar facility has preceded all other construction within the town, including both homes and commercial spaces, Babcock Ranch is the first town in the world where solar energy production will exceed total energy consumed from day one.
But solar power is only one of several sustainable components to the ranch. Modern “smart grid” digital electric distribution technologies embedded in the town’s infrastructure will optimize energy efficiency and lower utility costs for both residents and businesses. The town also boasts a highly sophisticated water management system, restoring historic flow ways and wetland ecosystems and utilizing 100 percent grey water for irrigation throughout the community. This integrated approach to water management sets a new standard for watershed protection, flood control and demand reduction.
In April, we unveiled plans for Babcock Ranch’s first phase of construction, marking the next exciting endeavor for the project: drawing in new residents, who we foresee bringing even greater character and energy to this town.
Ultimately, the story of Babcock Ranch is not only one of resilience, but of challenging the limitations of our own creativity and determination. In that sense, we hope the project inspires other developers to think about renewable energy and sustainability more holistically and consider ways to build projects around these elements, even when they appear daunting.
In the case of Babcock Ranch, we’ve created a place that caters to individuals today, while also being thoughtful about the future. And that’s the legacy we’re committed to sustaining.
Syd Kitson is the CEO and Chairman of Kitson & Partners, a private real estate investment and development company based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and primary developer of Babcock Ranch. For more information about this project, please visit https://www.babcockranchflorida.com/.