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Developer offers first look at first ‘Solar Village’ at Babcock Ranch

By Staff | Apr 16, 2009

For an area developer, a childhood spent enjoying nature is behind the “Renewable Energy Research Capital of the World” expected to be at the edge of Lee County, amidst the “First Solar City in the World.”
Florida has long been known as the “Lightning Capital of the World,” but the possible future title may well become the leader around the earth, according to the developer.
The 77,000-acre “Solar Village” is to emerge within Babcock Ranch.
The one-mile-long solar plant is to be built by Florida Power & Light, and construction is expected to begin at the end of the year. Already, the permit for the Development of Regional Impact has been issued.
The project was a vision of former pro football player Syd Kitson, who turned developer. Kitson and others involved in the project welcomed a gathering of media representatives, officials from Lee and Charlotte counties and others Wednesday for a presentation of his plans and a tour of the property.
Kitson is the chairman and chief executive officer of Kitson & Partners Communities, which — with Lee and Charlotte counties — purchased the sprawling ranch.
Tom Danahy, president of Kitson Babcock, welcomed the guests shorty after 10 a.m. as the clouds above were moving away.
“I am glad the sun came because we are depending on the sun, obviously,” he said, bringing laughter from the audience.
Danahy said he has known Kitson — who is nicknamed “the visionary” — for 10 years, and he explained how he became involved with the developer of the Solar Village.
“I was attracted by his vision of the future,” Danahy said.
When Kitson took his place at the microphone, he recalled his first mention in 2005 of his planning a sustainable community.
“Green, back then, was not cool … many people still don’t understand what green is,” Kitson said.
Regardless, the support grew and became amazing. Kitson explained that an agreement with the state of Florida led to the creation of a private/public partnership for the ranch operation.
“It is working and not asking for taxpayers money,” he said.
The new city will work hand in hand with the environment, according to the developer. Only truly renewable energy will be used, such as solar, wind and geothermal (coming from the ground), and it was found that the best source would be solar.
His first efforts to bring people to accept his project were not too encouraging in the early stages.
“The frustrating part to me was to get somebody to listen,” Kitson recalled.
Today, many agree the Solar Village will greatly benefit Lee and Charlotte counties by creating jobs because companies with green technology are already interested in moving to the area.
Kitson said he wants to see his vision followed around the world, so it was the reason he first presented his project in Washington, D.C.
He wanted the news to reach a national audience, with media representatives from the world over being present. News of the project was published in newspapers as far away as Russia and India, in some 150 outlets throughout the world.
“FPL is truly excited to be part of Babcock Ranch’s large-scale solar project, which will create a stimulus by bringing numerous jobs to this area,” FPL representative Charlotte Miller told the audience.
“It is such an exciting day in Charlotte County,” Charlotte County Commissioner Tricia Duffy said.
She recalled the time when she first learned about the project, and then Kitson asked her to keep it a secret.
“How can you tell me something so spectacular and ask me to keep it a secret?” Duffy said she told him. “How much of an honor for us, the first solar city in the world.”
According to Duffy and others, the area adjacent to Lee County will become the “Solar Capital of the World.”
This future wonder of the New World can be visited online at: www.babcockranchflorida.com. Renderings of the city can be viewed on the Web site.
There will be hamlets with a total of 18,000 homes. Offices and stores will be in the commercial area. Education will have an important place and be provided through 12th grade. There will be parks, water features, walking trails and bike paths, and another 68,000 acres of Babcock Ranch will remain a natural preserve. Another 12,000 acres cover a swamp.
Ernie Cox, president of Family Lands Remembered and a consultant for the project, held the microphone in one of two buses Wednesday taking guests through a 12-mile tour of Solar Village. The same Babcock Ranch buses conduct eco tours for the public.
Pointing to the swamp area, Cox noted that the wildlife is abundant.
“It is extremely wild,” he said. “We are glad the alligators are there, but we would recommend not hiking there.”
The buses passed by a large pond, which has been created to become a natural lake. A great deal of testing with native plants will be conducted in order to have vegetation not requiring chemicals like pesticides or fertilizers.
The tour on unpaved roads also took visitors near an area where a Florida Gulf Coast University Research Center is to be built. The community will have organic produce because of the large agricultural area.
After the tour, Charlotte County Commissioner Adam Cummings was asked what he thought of the project.
“I think the idea of the (solar) power plant is wonderful,” he said.
Presently, Charlotte County is looking at green programs.
“We are looking for ways to help people do things like having solar roofs, low impact development like permeable driveways,” Cummings said.
Kitson was asked how his vision came to his mind.
“Growing up, I spent many weekends camping in the Adirondacks and the Appalachian Mountains,” he said. “It comes from my love of the outdoors, from being outside in the woods. Preserving that and the habitat is very important to me.
“I believe deeply we need to solve our energy problems and dependence on foreign oil, and I believe we can take the lead on doing that,” Kitson added.