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This 100% solar community endured a near-Category 5 Hurricane with no loss of power and minimal damage

One solar community was designed to weather hurricanes. So when Hurricane Ian came on September 28, 2022, the locals were ready. The Category 4 storm, near Category 5, devastated Florida and the Gulf Coast, South Carolina, and Cuba, and became documented as the deadliest storm since 1935. However, Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida, just north of Fort Myers, never lost power. Their aftermath included just some knocked-over trees, a traffic light, and street signs, and some lost roof tiles.

Surviving Hurricane Ian with Minimal Damage

Image Credit: Babcock Ranch

The construction of Babcock Ranch started around 2015 with the goal to create homes that could withstand weather disasters without getting flooded, or losing power or water. So the solar community stands 30 miles inland, away from coastal storm surges. Power lines and phone lines are all underground, out of reach of strong winds. Giant pools surround the area to prevent flooding; plus, the streets are designed to absorb floods to keep the homes safe and buildings are reinforced for durability. 

Mark Wilkerson was one of the first 100 residents of Babcock Ranch in 2018; he and his wife had moved from Illinois. “We’d almost been ready to build north of Tampa, on the Gulf,” he says. “And then the last hurricane came through and reminded me that … I want to be in a place where I don’t have to evacuate.” So when Hurricane Ian came, the Wilkersons stayed home, as did many other locals.

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Although the lights flicked at one point, the power stayed on the entire time. Aside from the debris of loose tiles, trees, and street signs, no one would know a hurricane had just attacked. Unfortunately, many of the communities around Babcock Ranch suffered from power outages and damages. But the Babcock Ranch residents were able to reach out to help their neighbors. [1]

But Babcock Ranch isn’t known only for its weather resistance. It’s a community that runs primarily on solar power. Across 870 acres of land, the development has 700,000 photovoltaic panels, operated by Florida Power & Light. The panels provide enough power for the whole community, plus extra. The community has only 5,000 residents but the solar panels can supply 30,000. The extra power goes back into the grid and gives power to other communities nearby. Meanwhile, the stored power provides energy when the sun isn’t shining, and a natural gas generator kicks in to fill the gaps. 

Read: In France, All Large Parking Lots Now Have to be Covered by Solar Panels

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Creating a Solar Community

Babcock Ranch was the project of Syd Kitson, a 64-year-old former professional football player who started a real estate development company, Kitson & Partners. Babcock Ranch is one of the company’s first projects. Sustainability engineer Jennifer Languell helped design the community and now lives in it. “We felt you could develop and improve land, not just develop in a traditional way where people think you are destroying the land.” She said, “We have a lot of open spaces. We have a lot of trails, we have a lot of parks. The things that we do, you don’t see. The strength of the buildings, or the infrastructure that deals with stormwater, or the utilities. You don’t see that stuff. Which is good, because most people don’t need or want to think about it.”

Although Kitson and his partners aimed to create an eco-friendly, fully sustainable town, they didn’t know for certain it could weather a hurricane — until now. Kitson himself rode out Hurricane Ian at Babcock Ranch. “We were in the bullseye,” Kitson said. “And I remember sitting here. I had the weather on. And the weather person says, ‘Well, this Category 4  hurricane is now heading for Babcock Ranch.’ And not only is it heading for Babcock Ranch, but it’s going to be on the eastern side of the wall, which is the worst place to be.” The hurricane sat over the town for about eight to ten hours, according to Kitson. Afterward, he drove around to survey the damage and was astonished at its minimal impact. “…Our recovery was maybe a day.” 

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The Future of Weather-Proof Infrastructure

All of the solar panels for the community also remained standing, despite all of the rain and wind. “Gusts of over 150, and it did not take a single panel out of here, which is really just remarkable,” said Kitson. When asked if the community was just lucky to be located on a higher level than other parts of Florida, Kitson said, “That’s important, but not when it comes to the wind and flooding and rain. And so if that infrastructure’s not built properly, you will have homes that get flooded. You will have that wind damage. Particularly, you’ve got 150-160 mile-an-hour winds. If this is not built properly, it’s gonna come down.” [2]

As such, Babcock Ranch may become a prototype for infrastructure designed to survive storms. “Babcock Ranch is a powerful example of how a Category 4 hurricane can be a distraction instead of a disaster,” said Clay Sanders, the group manager of field engineering at FM Global. “It demonstrates it’s indeed possible today to build resilient communities in virtually any region if you follow a climate-focused plan. Whether your property is residential or commercial, like our clients’ facilities, there are a lot of things you can do to enhance resilience, like running power lines underground, building above flood levels, and choosing strong roof and wall systems. Do these things, and your building will likely still be intact after the storm passes. We hope others go down this path.” [3]

Keep Reading: Hole in Earth’s Magnetic Field Cracks Open For Six Hours Sparking Rare Pink Auroras

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Sources

  1. “One Florida community built to weather hurricanes endured Ian with barely a scratch.” NPR. Scott Neuman. October 6, 2022
  2. “Babcock Ranch: Solar-powered “hurricane-proof” town takes direct hit from Hurricane Ian, never loses electricity.CBS News. Scott Neuman. October 9, 2022
  3. “Florida’s Hurricane-Proof Town Is the Future of Planning for Climate Change.Newsweek. Chloe Mayer. October 18, 2022
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