Florida Solar Community Resists Hurricane Ian

Florida Solar Community

Every few years, coastal Florida experiences intense tropical storms or hurricanes. According to Universal Property, being surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida is susceptible to storms coming from either side. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports that 120 of the 292 hurricanes that have hit the US since 1851 have hit Florida. 

As hurricanes make their way to land, officials advise residents to evacuate the area. Although it seems like a simple enough decision to make, some residents choose not to evacuate often causing disastrous results. According to NPR, there are various reasons an individual or family may not evacuate, including not having anywhere to go and having too many pets to evacuate with. As Hurricane Ian approached Florida in early October, one group of residents had a different reason to stick around.

Community Overview

Like many others in Florida, Mark Wilkerson took a chance on Hurricane Ian by choosing to shelter at home rather than evacuating. But unlike many other Florida residents, Wilkerson had a compelling reason not to fear the Category 4 Storm.

In 2018, Wilkerson became a resident of Babcock Ranch. Developer Sydney Kitson established this innovative community to withstand whatever Mother Nature could throw at them without being flooded and losing water, electricity, or internet access. 

According to NPR, the community is 30 miles inland to avoid coastal storm surges. All powerlines to homes run underground, shielding them from high winds. Giant retaining ponds surround Babcock Ranch to protect residents from flooding, where the streets were strategically designed to absorb floodwaters.

Like most residents of Babcock Ranch, Wilkerson and his wife stayed put. Although they didn’t experience the hurricane at its worst, their home withstood 100-mph winds. Wilkerson recalls the lights in his house flickering, but they never lost power. Wilkerson’s house didn’t even lose a shingle.

Babcock Ranch Renewable Energy

Wilkerson has been a member of the solar industry since the 1980s. One of the reasons he chose to move to Babcock Ranch is the innovative use of solar energy, including its use of 870 acres of land owned by the development as a solar grid. With 650,000 photovoltaic panels, the solar array produces more than enough electricity to power the entire community. 

The solar array they have built can supply up to 30,000 homes. According to CBS News, Babcock Ranch only has 5000 residents living in 2000 homes. The rest of the power is sold back to the grid and used to power surrounding communities. During the night and on cloudy days, a natural gas generator fills in the gap.

Hurricane Ian

After being hit with a Category 4 hurricane, rather than needing to rebuild, the residents of Babcock Ranch were able to focus their energy on helping others in need. NPR reported a community center was built to double as a reinforced storm shelter, allowing members of communities that were hit especially hard by the storm to seek shelter. The residents also took to social media to fulfill supply requests and additional assistance. 

Jennifer Languel, a sustainability engineer who helped design Babcock Ranch and resident said, “We felt you could develop and improve the land, not just develop in a traditional way where people think you are destroying the land.” To Languell, Hurricane Ian provided a “proof of concept” for the community’s design. 

“We don’t want to brag by any stretch of the imagination because you do that, and the next thing you know, you get hit by a Category 5, and something doesn’t work as well.”

Future Implications

WPTV reports that once complete, Babcock Ranch expects to have nearly 20,000 homes and 50,000 residents with houses starting at $250,000. Communities like this could be a safe, affordable option for many people who want to live in Florida.

Babcock Ranch revealed all that a solar community with relatively low land allocation can accomplish. The 18,000-acre community devoted less than 5% of its total land area to generate enough electricity to power a town of 50,000 people. Kitson believes “this is the future for development, not just here, but around the country. What I’d like to do is get off the grid almost completely.” 

If you’re a Florida resident in need of solar energy support, our Greentech Renewables locations are ready and equipped to assist. Currently, there are locations in Miami, Orlando, Tampa Bay North, and Tampa Bay, and a new location opening in Jacksonville.

5 months 3 weeks ago
Written by
Adam Oseas