FORT MYERS, Fla. (WSVN) — Hurricane Ian’s powerful winds and relentless rain destroyed almost everything in its path, but residents in a small community a few miles from Fort Myers said they were spared from damage thanks to their homes’ clean-energy designs and the solar panels on their roofs.
When the Category 4 storm made landfall with wind gusts of over 150 miles an hour, much of the power grid in its path did not stand a chance. Thanks to the two feet of rain, even communities located miles away from the storm surge were unable to escape life-altering floods.
But even as whitecaps ripped across the lake in Anthony Grande’s backyard, he was relaxing right in front of the TV.
“You know, that’s one of the things I said to my wife when we were were sitting there watching TV. I’m like, ‘I don’t have any fear right now,'” he said.
Grande and the 2,000 families that live around him never lost power and did not flood, because they live in Babcock Ranch, a community about 15 miles from Fort Myers that is 100% solar powered.
“I even held on to my generator, not knowing what was really going to happen,” said Grande. “My wife was like, ‘Get rid of them,’ [and I was] like, ‘Now, I’m not getting rid of it. I’m not doing it,'” said Grande, “so we go through the test, and this was the test.”
When asked what he did with the generator, Grande replied, “I gave it to a friend,” said Grande.
Dr. Jennifer Languell, Babcock Ranch’s green building and sustainable development advisor, said she was nervous during the storm, because with a PhD in civil engineering, she helped design the place.
“I looked at my finished floor elevation, and I looked at the road elevation, and I just mentally was crunching numbers because I was like, ‘This is going to be bad,'” she said.
It was, but Babcock Ranch’s interconnected lakes and protected wetlands saved them from flooding, and the 750,000 solar panels in their 150-megawatt array all held solid.
“That’s the beautiful thing about engineering, right, is that you understand the wind loads, and you understand the stress and the strain, and you design to that,” said Languell.
Babcock Ranch is the brainchild of Syd Kitson, an NFL offensive lineman turned developer who bought a massive cattle ranch, sold most of it to Florida as a nature preserve, and set out to build the cleanest, most resilient town in America.
“I feel relieved that we’re not adding to what first responders have to deal with and that we’re able to help the community,” said Languell, “so we have people here making meals or taking in laundry from sheriffs and firefighters that are in from out of town. Because we were resilient, because we were durable, we’re able to help in that way.”
“It’s here. Technology is here,” said Grande. “We just need to get everybody on board, and make it affordable for everybody to get on board.”
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