Imagine 19,500 homes powered exclusively by the sun, and not one of them will sport a solar panel. Also missing from the equation will be rebates or tax credits or any of the usual incentives used to persuade folks to go green. That is what’s on the horizon at Babcock Ranch, a 17,000-acre development near Fort Myers, Fla., that--subject to a handful of outstanding state approvals--will get underway later this year.
The first entity to be constructed at Babcock Ranch won’t be roads, sewers, or any of the usual infrastructure. Instead, ground will be broken on the world’s largest photovoltaic power plant. In early April, real estate developer Kitson & Partners announced the agreement with electric utility Florida Power & Light (FPL) to build the 75-megawatt power generator.
If all goes as planned, Babcock Ranch will consume less power than the proposed on-site solar facilities will produce, making it the first city powered by zero-emission solar energy. It also will include an integrated “smart grid” that will provide greater efficiencies and allow residents and businesses to monitor and control their energy consumption. All commercial buildings and homes will be certified as energy-efficient and constructed according to Florida Green Building Council standards.
“The city itself will always generate more solar power than it uses,” says Syd Kitson, the energetic, former pro football player who is the brains--and the enthusiasm--behind this ambitious project. “Over time there will be the technology available there to store it. We want Babcock Ranch to be an incubator for people and companies that can take these technologies and implement them in new ways.”
Babcock Ranch wants to be a model of conservation in more down-to-earth ways too. More than half of its 17,000 acres will be permanently protected as greenways and open space, and the city is adjacent to the 73,000-acre Babcock Ranch Preserve. It also will feature sustainable water management and conservation; street lamps designed to reduce light pollution; electric car chargers; and green roofs that reduce energy loss.
Kitson says the overall plan, which is being designed by the Silver Spring, Md., firm of Torti Gallas and Partners, will feature homes that are “multigenerational in both product and pricing. There will be everything from low-income housing to apartments, condos, townhouses, and single-family homes, on lots that range from small to medium to large.”
Who will build the 19,500 homes is still up in the air. “Once we get the city plan in place, then we’ll bring in the builders,” says Kitson. “Our restrictions are going to be pretty tough, but our view is that most of the builders we’re talking to get it now. Coming out of this recession people will be looking for something different. It’s not just a money issue. There’s a moral sense that energy conservation is something that needs to be done now.”
As for where all these people will work, a recent study conducted by the Florida research firm Fishkind & Associates found that Babcock Ranch will generate 20,000 permanent jobs across a wide range of industries and income levels. “We’re in negotiations with several large companies to locate here,” says Kitson. “Jobs are the key.”