When Hurricane Ian moved into Southwest Florida this week, it was a real test for the community. The storm destroyed the nearby areas of Fort Myers and Naples with record-breaking waves and winds of over 100 mph. Babcock Ranch, the first 100% solar community in the United States, passed through Tropical Storm Ian with no loss of power and minimal damage.
Babcock ranch in Florida
The storm uprooted trees and ripped shingles off roofs, but other than that, one resident said there was no major damage. Residents say Babcock Ranch is proof that an environmentally conscious, solar-powered city can withstand the wrath of a near Category 5 storm.
Many Babcock Ranch residents believe it’s proof that a solar-powered, environmentally conscious city can withstand the wrath of a near-Category 5 storm.
“We are very, very blessed and fortunate not to experience what they are experiencing right now on Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach,” Grande said. “In the times we are living now with climate change, the beach is not the place to live or have a business.”
Babcock Ranch calls itself “America’s first solar-powered city.” Its nearby solar array, made up of 700,000 individual panels, generates more electricity than the neighbourhood’s 2,000 homes use, in a state where most electricity is generated by burning natural gas, a fossil fuel that warms the planet.
In addition to meeting strict Florida building codes, Babcock’s streets were designed to flood so homes wouldn’t, with native landscaping along the roadway to help control stormwater, while power lines and the Internet were buried underground to prevent wind damage.
Protection against power outages
Some residents have also installed additional solar panels on their roofs and added battery systems for added protection against power outages. Many residents also drive electric vehicles to make the most of the sunlight.
Climate resiliency was built into the fabric of this community with stronger storms in mind. So when Tropical Storm/Hurricane Ian ripped through the nearby areas of Fort Myers and Naples with record-breaking waves and 100+ mph winds, knocking out power to more than 2.6 million customers in Florida, including 90% of Florida County, Charlotte, power, light and Internet stayed at Babcock Ranch!
The storm uprooted trees and ripped shingles off roofs, but other than that, Grande said there was no major damage. Its residents say Babcock Ranch is proof that an environmentally conscious, solar-powered city can withstand the wrath of a near-Category 5 storm.
“We have proof of the case now because [the hurricane] passed right over us,” Nancy Chorpenning, a 68-year-old Babcock Ranch resident, told CNN. “We have water, electricity, and internet, and we may be the only people in Southwest Florida who are that lucky.”
Grande said Hurricane Ian tore through Southwest Florida “like a freight train.” But she wasn’t afraid of losing everything in a storm, like when she lived in Fort Myers.
Babcock residents say their neighbourhood is a model of urban development in a future devastated by climate change.
“It is no longer what it was 20 or 25 years ago; the storms are getting bigger, and it’s not a surprise, because all the warnings have been there,” Grande said. “I think the future of Babcock Ranch has gotten even brighter.”
Critical power for critical services
A fire station in Puerto Rico offers a glimpse of what solar power and storage can do. After Hurricane Maria cut power for months in 2017, more than 40,000 solar systems were installed on the island, often combined with storage batteries. One of them is in the fire station of the city of Guánica, which had not been able to receive emergency calls in previous outages.
When the winds and flooding from Hurricane Fiona knocked out power to most of Puerto Rico again in September 2022, the fire station was still operating.
“The solar system is working wonderfully!” Sergeant Luis Sáez told Canary Media the day after Fiona lost power. “We didn’t run out of power during the entire hurricane.”
New forms of backup
Setting up solar and storage to provide backup power in a home or building takes extra work and costs more: A Powerwall alone can cost between US$12,000 and $16,500 for a full system installation, before incentives and taxes. That’s about as much as a good-sized solar system. However, a growing number of homeowners are installing both.
More than 90% of new solar installations in Hawaii in 2021 were combined with batteries after a regulation change. Now, these distributed power plants are helping to power the grid as coal plants are retired.
California has more than 1.5 million rooftop solar systems. A growing number of customers are retrofitting batteries to their systems or adding new solar plus storage, in part because utilities have resorted to “public safety power outages” to reduce the risk of wildfires sparked by power lines during dry and windy days.
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