Babcock Ranch: How a Solar-Powered Town Withstood Hurricane Ian
October 13, 2022
On September 28, Hurricane Ian made landfall on the Florida peninsula, hitting hard many communities as it tore through homes and businesses along the coast.
With the death toll climbing to more than 100 and insured losses estimated at $67 billion, Ian has become the deadliest and costliest hurricane in the state’s history. Days after the storm, hundreds of thousands remained without power, and roadways were still flooded.
However, one community near the hard-hit area of Fort Myers endured Hurricane Ian with minimal damage and no loss of power. Babcock Ranch garnered media attention after it was left relatively unscathed by the category-4 storm.
Babcock Ranch, a planned community located in Charlotte and Lee Counties in Florida, prides itself as America’s first solar-powered town. While Hurricane Ian knocked out power to about 4 million customers in Florida, including 90% of Charlotte County, the town survived the hurricane with its power on.
In an interview with CNN, 68-year-old resident Nancy Chorpenning said, “We have water, electricity, internet — and we may be the only people in Southwest Florida who are that fortunate.”
Renewable energy and sustainability are the cornerstone of Babcock Ranch’s way of life. In partnership with Florida Power & Light, Babcock Ranch houses the largest solar-plus-storage system operating in the U.S. today. It boasts of an “870-acre solar farm, to solar tree charging stations, to the country’s largest solar-plus-battery storage system.”
The town built to weather hurricanes gets its electricity from 650,000 solar panels. While the rest of the area lost power, the solar array kept the lights on for Babcock Ranch residents. Solar panels produce more power and energy than the town consumes. After Hurricane Ian, the town opened Babcock Neighborhood School as an official shelter and refuge for storm evacuees and some of the hardest-hit victims.
Babcock Ranch was built in 2015 on the principle that smart growth and preservation can work together. The town was designed with climate resiliency in mind in the event of a catastrophic weather event. Power lines are run underground to keep it safe from high winds, while giant retaining ponds around the community protect houses from flooding. In addition, the streets are designed to minimize flooding and keep it away from the houses.
As Hurricane Ian has shown, America’s power infrastructure is not well-equipped to handle worsening extreme weather conditions. Climate change will only make extreme weather more likely and more intense. These catastrophic weather events can shut down power, cost lives, and result in tremendous economic loss.
The big question now is: how can we prepare for something we’ve never experienced before?
Not all communities can be designed like Babcock Ranch. However, government officials and community leaders need to find solutions that can help their communities to prepare for disasters.
Emergency preparedness can be a life-or-death matter: it can save countless lives, speed up people's recovery and save money. There’s no benefit in ignoring risks and hoping you can figure things out after disaster strikes. But there are plenty of benefits to emergency preparedness.
As Sesame Solar’s Co-Founder and CEO Lauren Flanagan said, “While we can’t stop hurricanes or wildfires from happening, we can create solutions that help communities recover efficiently without causing further damage to the environment.”