February 05,2018 - In Southwest Florida, taking a shine to the nation’s first solar-powered town
Washington Post

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the Babcock Ranch autonomous shuttle was designed by transit company Transdev. In fact, the shuttle was designed by EasyMile and is operated by Transdev.

February 1

A model home at Babcock Ranch, billed as the country’s first solar-powered town, in Southwest Florida. (Selina Kok/For The Washington Post)

Along a dirt road leading into Florida’s past, I stopped to marvel at its future, or at least one vision of it. I was headed to Babcock Ranch Eco-Tours, where visitors pay to tour a working ranch and swampy backwoods on a state-owned preserve, when I pulled over to peer through a chain-link fence onto the edge of a spectacular sea of solar panels — 343,000 to be exact, stretching across some 440 acres.

While the 75-megawatt facility owned by Florida Power & Light attracts no fanfare here, a few miles down State Road 31 its primary customer, Babcock Ranch, has been making headlines for a while. The master-planned development in Southwest Florida, between Punta Gorda and Fort Myers, touts itself as the nation’s first solar-powered town. It welcomed its first residents in January and hopes to reach 500 by the end of the year. Eventually, some 50,000 people are expected to live in its neighborhoods, scattered around a Town Center and commercial district.

Babcock Ranch’s official grand opening is March 10, nearly a year after its “soft opening,” which drew upward of 20,000 visitors. The curious can stop by anytime to visit the information center, tour model homes and even hitch a ride on a self-driving shuttle, which will eventually be part of what is being hailed as the nation’s first autonomous shuttle network.

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