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Solar-powered Fla. town survived Hurricane Ian -- with lights on

By Thomas Leffler, Accuweather.com
The coast of southwestern Florida was ravaged by Hurricane Ian in September. Photo by POC3 Riley Perkofski/U.S. Coast Guard/UPI
The coast of southwestern Florida was ravaged by Hurricane Ian in September. Photo by POC3 Riley Perkofski/U.S. Coast Guard/UPI | License Photo

The fury of Hurricane Ian left southwestern Florida in tatters after its landfall as a Category 4 storm in September. Particularly hard-hit were the cities of Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach and nearby Punta Gorda.

Along with significant structural damage, power was cut off to a vast number of residents, leaving them with limited access to Internet and without other comforts of home.

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About 25 miles northeast of Fort Myers lies the community of Babcock Ranch, the first town in the United States to run solely on solar power. While people in surrounding areas were struggling without electricity, it was a much different story for residents who live in the 2,000 homes throughout Babcock Ranch.

"We didn't lose power during the storm, we didn't lose Internet," said Jennifer Languell of Trifecta Construction Solutions, a Babcock Ranch resident who helped design the solar-powered system that kept the town relatively unscathed from Ian's wrath.

The 870-acre solar energy center at the heart of Babcock Ranch, Fla., powers the 2,000-home community with renewable energy that withstood the test of Hurricane Ian.
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Babcock Ranch's success lies in its 870-acre solar energy center, home to 680,000 solar panels that ensure clean and renewable energy. The amount of energy generated from the solar farm exceeds the total amount of the town's consumption, with even more room to grow. The solar farm was hardly damaged by Ian.

"During the day, while the solar panels are working, we are generating enough power to basically serve about 30,000 homes," Languell said, noting that future building plans call for the town to expand the population from 2,000 homes to 19,500.

Babcock Ranch also houses the largest solar-plus-storage system in the United States, containing 10 large gray steel battery storage units that ensure a steady power supply on cloudy days, as well as at night.

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Babcock Ranch works in partnership with Florida Power and Light, and its amenities besides the solar farm include power and Internet lines that run underground, minimizing damage from the winds and flying debris that ran amok in other Florida cities during Ian.

The town was built 30 feet above sea level in order to prevent flooding and withstand the worst storm surges. Each home was built to meet the latest and strongest building codes in Florida.

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Local vegetation was also kept intact after the wreckage of Ian.

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"We definitely use a lot of native vegetation, which is why our vegetation really survives ... literally a week after the storm, you would never think that we had a storm come through," Languell said.

National outlets have recognized Babcock Ranch's innovation, such as the prestigious Edison Awards that honor the world's top innovators. The town received an award as a "Game Changer" in the Edison Awards sustainability category in 2021.

Southwest Florida's Babcock Ranch community kept its lights on during Hurricane Ian due to its solar-powered innovation.

Now recognized for its remarkable staying power in the middle of Ian, Languell hopes other communities can follow suit with similar innovations.

"People can look at what we did and do any component of it," Languell said. "[All components were] helpful, but it definitely was all these pieces together that made us so durable and resilient during this storm."

Reporting by AccuWeather's Emmy Victor.

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