America’s First Solar Town Breaks Ground

BABCOCK RANCH, Fla. — One of the greenest communities in America, located east of Fort Meyers on the banks of the Coloosahatchie River in Florida, is currently under construction. Ten years ago, real estate developer Kitson & Partners bought the 91,000 acres for $500 million, promising the owners to donate most of the land to preservation.

Soon after the initial purchase, Palm Beach, Fla.-based Kitson & Partners sold 73,000 acres to the State of Florida and Lee County in a commitment to protect the land and its inhabitants from development. Already, wetlands and waterways have been partially restored with crayfish, native birds and plants returning to the area.

“We were able to preserve those acres forever. It can never be touched. If you ask me what I’m most proud of, it’s that,” said Syd Kitson, chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners.

Now, a decade later, the remaining 17,000-plus acres will become Babcock Ranch, a completely green community, including everything from its transportation to energy supply. Instead of public transportation, there will be autonomous, electric cars and a ride-sharing app for the town. The roads will be outfitted for pedestrians and bicyclists with paths that do not compete with vehicular traffic.

Florida Power & Light has agreed to build a 443-acre, 74.5-megawatt solar farm comprised of 350,000 panels, which will provide most of the energy to an estimated town population of 50,000. The solar farm should be completed by the end of the year, but Kitson & Partners will continue to work on how to store the renewable energy to make the most of the Sunshine State’s clean-energy resources. In the meantime, companies and homes will run on natural gas through Florida Power & Light when the sun sets or when its particularly cloudy outside.

“On the renewable energy side, it took us eight or nine years to get it done. That’s a long time, but hopefully the next time, it gets a little easier, and people can look at it and say, ‘That works.’ We want to prove to everybody that this strategy that we have can be replicated and can be done all over the country,” said Kitson in an interview with ThinkProgress.

Homes, purposefully positioned close to the commercial center, will have built-in Greywater recycling infrastructure and community recycling programs. Six million square feet will also be dedicated to commercial and community space. Every building’s roof will be built to accommodate solar panels in the future.

Beyond the town, the land will be used for wildlife and recreation, with 50 miles of planned trails and a manmade lake built to serve the community. Seventy-five acres of former farmland will even be restored as a habitat for the Florida panther, a subspecies of the cougar.

Kitson hopes that sustainable energy companies will eventually bring their businesses and research facilities to Babcock Ranch, using the community as a sort of living laboratory.

Phase I of construction begins this summer, with completion scheduled for spring 2017 when downtown is set to open.


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