Babcock Ranch setting a new standard for smart, sustainable growth

Solar-powered town garnering national, international attention
Florida Weekly November 29, 2017

People across the nation are talking a lot about the need for responsible growth, sustainability and “smart cities.” But to find someone who is doing something about it – you have to travel to Southwest Florida.

Babcock Ranch has been attracting national and international attention since plans for the world’s first new solar-powered town were first announced in 2008. Developer Kitson & Partners generated more headlines when it first broke ground on the long-awaited town of the future two years ago. As construction of the initial downtown district at Founders Square nears completion and the environmentally-friendly town prepares to welcome its first residents the media spotlight is intensifying.

Appearing as a panelist on a recent Washington Post Live program discussing new approaches for a sustainable future, Kitson & Partners Chairman and CEO Syd Kitson highlighted the innovations that have put Babcock Ranch on the cutting edge.

I read a lot about how everybody’s talking about building these smart cities, and we’re already doing that,” Kitson said. “All the things that people have talked about –netzero energy emissions, advanced technological infrastructure, minimizing the development footprint, a network of clean transportation alternatives to reduce the number of automobiles per household – we’re doing it.”

Journalists around the world are taking note. Plans to roll out the first network of autonomous shuttle vehicles in North America were reported by Fast Company and Time Magazine. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Politico magazine featured Babcock Ranch as an example of smarter, more sustainable growth to accommodate Florida’s burgeoning population. A crew from Europe’s largest public broadcaster, German television network ZDF, visited in early November. The story featuring interviews with Kitson and some of the first homebuyers at Babcock Ranch aired on ZDF’s flagship foreign affairs program. Closer to home, Kitson has done a series of live interviews on The Weather Channel to discuss solar power, sustainability and storm resiliency initiatives.

“At Babcock Ranch we’re focused on sustainability because it is what is right for the environment – and because it is good business,” Kitson explained during the Washington Post program. “People care about what we’re doing as a society – and what’s interesting is, it’s not just millennials who have a genuine interest in living more sustainably – it is also the Baby Boomers. But as much as they want to be sustainable, it still has to make economic sense for them individually.”

Babcock Ranch leverages economies of scale and cutting edge technologies to keep costs competitive. Unprecedented technological infrastructure electronically coordinates energy, water, transportation and safety systems, and equips homes and businesses with extraordinary bandwidth supporting lightning-fast data speeds, mobile apps and global connectivity to free Wi-Fi. Sustainability features – from water conservation to alternative transportation – are woven right into the infrastructure. “We recognize that progress comes in increments,” Kitson said. “Americans are not going to go from one car for every driver to no cars for every household overnight. We start by making cars just one of many options for getting around town. When people can walk, bike, catch a shuttle, use their handheld device to summon an on-demand autonomous vehicle, or utilize a shared vehicle service for trips off-site, they will quickly realize they don’t really need their own car.”

But of all the innovations offered at Babcock Ranch – solar power is what really sets it apart.

“We spent a lot of time talking about how to make the community sustainable, how to make it different than anywhere else – and solar energy to us was the key,” Kitson explained. “Through our partnership with Florida Power & Light (FPL) every single resident of Babcock Ranch starts off with a minimal carbon footprint – with no additional cost. They pay the same rates as any other FPL customer.”

FPL’s Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center, located on 440 acres of former sod-farming field on the northern edge of the new town, generates more clean, renewable energy than the new town will ever consume. The 74.5 MW solar field went online in December of last year – before the new town’s first buildings were constructed.

The vision for Babcock Ranch started with preservation. The new town is the economic engine that made it possible to put 80% of the historic Babcock Ranch – 73,000 acres – into permanent preservation. Of the 18,000 acres that make up the footprint of the new town, another 9,000 acres have been set aside for greenspace.

“At the end of the day, 90% of the original ranch—Babcock Ranch—is in preservation forever. And that’s a legacy that people are going to be able to enjoy for generations, and we think that’s very, very important,” Kitson said. “We set out to prove that preservation and growth can work hand in hand and it is extremely gratifying to see how people are embracing what we are doing. We have a thousand people a day moving into our state net. We need to accommodate that, and we need to do it in the right way. I don’t think just because it’s sustainable—just because you’re doing it the right way—means it needs to be more expensive. And we’re proving that out.”