Babcock Ranch Becomes First Solar-Powered Town In United States

A new community in Florida has become America's first town that will fully run on solar power. Over 300,000 solar panels are expected to power an eventual population of 50,000 people, and there's hopes to have fully autonomous transportation in the future.


May 17 2019, Updated 4:34 p.m. ET

Babcock Ranch is a new town in Florida that’s going to run 100 percent on solar power. At first glance, it’s not very different from your typical community. For example, it has restaurants, stores, a school, and thousands of households. The solar power, of course, is what makes it so unique. In fact, it's the first of its kind in the United States. Even cooler? It has the potential to power other cities surrounding it.

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Developer Syd Kitson, who is a former NFL player for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, purchased the land that’s about 30 miles northeast of Fort Myers, Florida, back in 2005. It was a massive ranch that was mostly sold off to the state government to preserve wildlife. However, he saved 20 percent of the property to create his new town.

Back then, he already had a vision for Babcock Ranch to be self-sustaining city. There would be zero emissions from autonomous vehicles and there would be more energy generated than consumed. All of this would be accomplished by installing over 300,000 solar panels across 440 acres.

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"We want to be the most sustainable new town in the United States," Kitson told CBS News. "We had the advantage of a green field, a blank sheet of paper. When you have a blank sheet of paper like this, you really can do it right from the beginning."

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Babcock Ranch is equivalent to the size of Manhattan in New York City. Transportation throughout the town is mostly through the self-driving buses or utilizing shared bicycles that can be used on around 50 miles of trails. Recycled water through rain gardens, which naturally filters the liquid, will be used in the town’s irrigation system.

There’s no avoiding vehicles initially, but Kitson hopes that the town will fully run on self-driving vehicles in the future. He told Yale Climate Connections that in the coming years he hopes autonomous cars can be used on demand. Then they’ll “be able to turn parking areas into parks and really change the way that people go from point to point.”

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Richard and Robin Kinley were the first residents to move into the new town in January and had one of the lakes named after them. Richard told CBS News that he believes communities like this are the future, and investing in a home was similar to buying a Tesla five years ago.

50,000 residents are expected to populate Babcock Ranch, and there will be more than enough solar generation to satisfy their needs. They anticipate to power other places surrounding them, but a current problem is not having enough storage space for energy. It’s still too costly to rely only on battery backup, so they will still get power from the national grid during night hours or when there’s too much overcast.

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