Through meticulous planning and a little luck, a planned community in Florida survives Hurricane Ian relatively unscathed.
BY BILL HENSLEY
WE HAD BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO CEDIA FOR MONTHS — years, actually, given how long we’d been away. As we finished up final programming, rendered the final videos and confirmed our crates had reached the show’s advance warehouse in time, a tropical storm was forming in the Central Caribbean. By the time our set-up team was on the ground in Dallas, it was clear Ian would hit central Florida as a major storm. One of our team members spent a long Monday helping set up the booth and caught the last flight to Tampa Tuesday morning to be with his family in Weeki Wachee. Originally projected to hit Tampa head on, Ian then did what hurricanes often do — it changed course and made landfall at Ft. Meyers as a Category 4 storm. By the time it hit Babcock Ranch, 20 miles inland from Ft. Meyers, the winds had diminished to 100 miles per hour. Diminished? Still a powerful storm.
Babcock Ranch is a fully planned community created by estate development firm Kitson & Partners, which is led by former pro football player Syd Kitson. Homes are built to withstand hurricanes without being flooded out or losing electricity, water or the Internet. Most Babcock Ranch residents chose to ride out Hurricane Ian at home. The lights did flicker, but houses did not lose power. The power lines run underground, eliminating the opportunity for a power pole to be toppled by high winds. To protect houses from flooding, retaining ponds surround the development, and the streets are designed to absorb floodwaters and spare the houses. The houses themselves are designed for maximum resilience to weather events by several regional and national builders. Overall, the community emerged from the storm relatively unscathed.
From its inception, Babcock Ranch has sought to be “smarter than the average town” and has deployed gigabit internet as standard in every home. It became the first master-planned “smart city” with global network access points and is pilot-testing technology projects — from autonomous shuttles to drone delivery service to robotic garbage cans.
Babcock Ranch also claims to be the first solar-powered town in America, taking advantage of its Sunshine State location to make renewable energy a way of life, allowing residents to minimize the environmental footprint of everyday life. To do so, it must produce renewable energy at a utility scale, so Babcock Ranch partnered with Florida Power & Light. 870 acres of land in Babcock Ranch is dedicated to two solar fields: the FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center and FPL Babcock Preserve Solar Energy Center. Combined, they can generate 150 megawatts of solar energy from 650,000 solar panels, which exceeds the total consumption of town residents.
To ensure a steady supply of power at night, on cloudy days — or during a hurricane — Babcock Ranch houses the “largest solar-plus-storage system operating in the U.S. today.” Ten battery storage units can store one megawatt of power and discharge for four hours. That combination of solar generation and storage made a difference as Ian passed.