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Can a New 'Solar City' Make Suburbia Green?

People are starting to move into Babcock Ranch, an ambitious development in Florida more than a decade in the making. With a solar field and self-driving shuttles, it’s a suburb that its creators hope will be revolutionary.
An aerial view of Babcock Ranch near Fort Myers, which is projected to have 50,000 residents by the time it’s completed
An aerial view of Babcock Ranch near Fort Myers, which is projected to have 50,000 residents by the time it’s completed Babcock Ranch

BABCOCK RANCH, FLORIDA—Like a lot of Floridians, Syd Kitson loves the sun. But his passion is mainly for the energy it feeds to his new development, Babcock Ranch, which bills itself as the country’s first solar-powered city, located 15 miles northeast of Fort Myers and close to Florida’s southwest coast.

This particular day in March turned out to be a milestone for Kitson, an NFL guard-turned-property developer who has been chasing his vision of a sustainable society for more than a decade. As he surveyed the 440 acres of solar panels already in place, on land that he donated to Florida Power & Light, he said he just learned that the utility company plans to double the size of its energy farm. “FPL is going to add another 75 megawatts, so we’re going to have a total of 150 megawatts,” Kitson said.