Hurricane Ian was a near-category five storm when it made landfall in the Naples/Fort Meyers area of Florida’s gulf coast. It caused mass destruction to Southwest Florida, taking dozens of lives and leaving millions without power.
Apart from that, every now and then, we hear new stories of natural disasters and their horrific effects across the United States. Hurricanes slamming Puerto Rico, droughts in the American Southwest, wildfires scorching the Pacific Northwest as well as punishing heat waves in Texas, incomprehensible flooding in Kentucky and Missouri, and the Plains.
Altogether, these horrorshow events have devastated millions of Americans and indicate grim times ahead. But some communities and regions withstood the effects of these disasters better than others—and they all have something in common.
Let us find out.
In Florida, the renewables-dependent “solar town” Babcock Ranch “endured Hurricane Ian with no loss of power and minimal damage”. If Hurricane Ian was a test of the town’s resiliency, Babcock Ranch passed with flying colors.
Puerto Ricans who had privately installed solar panels on the roofs of their homes and businesses retained power access while the island’s erratic grid collapsed after Hurricane Fiona. (The local government is now going ahead with a plan to install even more solar-power capacity.)
Residential solar panels in California many times were obscured by smoke and cloud cover during the summer spate of wildfires, heavy rainstorms, and heat waves. Even then the amount of energy that solar panels had generated for battery-storage systems provided residents with days’ worth of power in the face of blackout scares.
The Oregon Military Department disclosed that its mostly solar-powered microgrid kept the center’s air conditioning going during an unprecedented heat wave.
Also in Oregon, the solar microgrids allowed hundreds of homes in wildfire-prone areas to maintain electricity access while the state cut off power from the main grid.
When Texas faced the risk of June blackouts thanks to record energy demand, wind and solar ended up providing one-third of the state’s power, thus lessening pressure on the local grid.
You can find even more examples if you stretch further into the past.
Now let us come back to the most recent and ongoing disaster in Florida.
Hurricane Ian brought record-breaking surges and winds over 100 mph that knocked out power to 2.6 million Floridians. Yet there was no major damage to the eco-conscious town that lay in the direct path of the near-Category 5 storm. In fact, most residents did not even evacuate. Aside from a few uprooted trees and torn roof shingles, Babcock was virtually unscathed.
Syd Kitson, a former professional football player for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, is the mastermind behind Babcock Ranch. The ranch broke ground in 2015 with the construction of the solar array — which was built and is run by Florida Power and Light — and its first residents moved into the town in 2018.
Babcock Ranch calls itself “America’s first solar-powered town.” Babcock Ranch has grown exponentially since the construction of its solar array. Now the 75 MW solar facility powers the planned community, with 700,000 panels delivering clean energy to its residents.
It is connected by a small distribution system of wires buried beneath the ground, thereby avoiding outages from downed wires. The ranch also designed streets as floodways and planted native species to control flooding.
As utilities scramble to restore power across the state, Babcock residents say September storms showed that America’s energy infrastructure is not well-equipped to handle worsening extreme weather events.
Kitson is of the view that someday as many as 50,000 people could call Babcock Ranch home. As more people see how the solar-powered community prevailed in the wake of Ian, we have little doubt that the goal will be reached.