How Solar Power Saved this Florida Town from Hurricane Ian

By Ariana Nieves,
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

Image of Dad pushing his child in a wagon through a garden. A technologically advanced Florida town has been making headlines recently for weathering Hurricane Ian. Hurricane Ian was a category four massive storm that landed in southwest Florida on September 28th, 2022. Hurricane Ian created catastrophic damage and is aimed to become the most expensive hurricane ever to hit Florida, currently estimated at $84 billion in damages.  

Thousands of Floridians lost their homes, were without power and water for days following the storm, and are still feeling the repercussions of the hurricane today. However, that is not the case for Babcock Ranch, a small town just 15 miles east of Fort Myers. Babcock Ranch is an 18,000-acre town operated by solar power and built with resiliency in mind. The city has 700,000 solar panels that can power up to 30,000 homes. The sustainable village never lost power or water, sustained minor damage, and did not lose a single solar panel despite facing 150+ mph winds. The town’s 870-acre solar farm created a hardened infrastructure that made this all possible.  

The solar farm is operated in collaboration with Florida Power & Light. The lines run underground throughout the community so extreme weather cannot take down powerlines; large concrete poles connect the ranch to the rest of the state. Additionally, Florida Power & Light provides the town access to a natural gas plant to supplement power when there is not enough sun to create the energy the community needs. Creating multiple streams of clean energy adds to the resilience of the ranch and its ability to provide consistent power to residents.  

Other factors also helped make this futuristic neighborhood more storm resilient than the rest of the state. The ranch is relatively new, with residents moving into the town in 2017. The somewhat recently constructed homes are built to a more recent building code, giving the city a more significant advantage when facing Ian. Additionally, the creators of Babcock Ranch selected the site 30 miles inland and 30 feet above sea level to amplify protection against Florida’s infamous hurricane season.  

The large amount of open space and the use of native plants also helped to decrease storm runoff and flooding in the community. The creators chose native plants because of their experience growing in Florida’s natural tropical environment, making them less vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. The ranch also has its own self-contained water and waste management system that kept residents from losing access to water during the storm.  

Babcock Ranch serves as an example for the future of all-sustainable residential communities. As the battle with climate change continues, more severe hurricanes could become a new normal for Florida. It is imperative that while the state is in this period of rebuilding, it considers upscaling the resiliency of its residential areas to lower the risk of destruction and catastrophic damage. Babcock Ranch proves that through careful planning and engineering, buildings can be designed sustainably and more robust to protect the planet and residents and ensure a better future. 


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