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Explore Babcock Ranch and FPL’s interactive museum: A Living Laboratory

From three stories up, the navy sea of tilted tiles stretches to the cypress-fringed horizon, 870 energy-gathering acres harnessed by Babcock Ranch to power its growing Charlotte County community. That singular view opens to the general public May 1, but journalists got an Earth Day preview Monday.

Greater than a scenic tower, Babcock’s Solar Ranch, an FPL Eco-Discovery Center, is 2,500 square feet of all-ages education: a family-friendly mini-museum of interactive exhibits and games that is a crash course in the event’s electrical innovations. ‘What it’s all about,’ Babcock has long celebrated its distinction as the primary solar-powered town within the U.S., founder Syd Kitson said at the revealing event but hasn’t had a approach to show the general public the way it all works. Now it does, “with this beautiful constructing Florida Power and Light built ‒ a fantastic enterprise between us and our partners,” Kitson said. “What makes this so great is now people can actually understand what it’s all about and (we will) teach young students that this is an element of our future, that we will successfully do something like this.”

Kitson said from the start, the community needed a source of renewable energy to be truly sustainable, and solar made perfect sense. “That is the Sunshine State in any case,” he said. Showing off a living lab of solar energy, but gathering the sun’s energy is one thing; storing and distributing it’s something else entirely. So the power includes one in all the biggest solar-plus-storage systems within the U.S. Its 10 steel battery units can store one megawatt of power, then discharge it for 4 hours, ensuring a gradual supply.

“(We) have all the time wanted Babcock to be a living laboratory… we would like to try recent technologies. So Florida Power and Light built one in all the primary solar to battery facilities within the country here at Babcock Ranch – 10 megawatts,” he said, “and so they’ve been learning from it (and) adding additional battery storage throughout the state of Florida.” The brand new center emphasizes three of the community’s core initiatives, Kitson says: technology, energy and education, illuminated by videos and interactive exhibits, including a Roblox-powered electric vehicle driving game.

The subsequent-door tower offers a view of Babcock’s two FPL solar fields: the Babcock Ranch and Babcock Preserve Solar Energy Centers, with 687,000 panels delivering energy to the community and FPL’s grid, though Babcock residents are first in line. “Electricity on the electrical grid flows to the closest users so having FPL’s on-site solar energy centers so near our community that directly feeds our onsite substation implies that Babcock Ranch is using that energy, which is an enormous a part of our community’s identity,” Kitson said.

Being connected affords one other advantage ‒ power at the hours of darkness. “Babcock Ranch is connected to FPL’s hardened electric grid, which delivers reliable service from different sources of generation, in every kind of weather for our community and all FPL customers,” he said. “Even when the sun is not shining, we’re going to proceed to get reliable electric service from the larger FPL grid.”

Each facility can generate 75 megawatts each, which ensures that their net production exceeds the entire amount the town consumes. The 2 facilities join greater than 65 others which have saved customers greater than $900 million that may have gone to fossil fuel, says FPL Vice President of External Affairs and Economic Development Pam Rauch. The move to solar is an element of a bigger strategy, Rauch says. “We have replaced old inefficient power plants with recent, ultra super-efficient plants and we have really invested in these solar facilities, so not only are we protecting our air and water, we’re saving our customers lots of money and we’re doing it in a rather more resilient way,” she said.

Resilience is one other of Babcock’s watchwords, and Kitson points out the community’s now battle-tested. Before Hurricane Ian, “(Partner Tom Hoban) and I had promised 5,000 neighbors that they get to all shelter in place,” Kitson said. “So the storm got here… sat on top of us for eight hours. I remember pondering to myself what will occur; oh my goodness all that work, all that investment, on a regular basis… everybody had worked so hard to create this resilient community and now we’re being tested and we’re about to seek out out if all that may repay.”

His answer got here the morning after the storm. “When the sun got here up, I jumped in my truck and began driving around Babcock Ranch and it was remarkable to see almost no damage and everybody else outside almost dazed by what they’d been through. The hardened grid had come through like a champ,” he says. “Having power throughout that entire experience was almost surreal for them because imagine sitting in your home with a powerful Category 4 hurricane blowing excessive of you and also you’re capable of watch it in real time,” Kitson said. The lesson? “In case you do the fitting thing, if you wish to be leaders, you make that investment and it pays off.”

In case you go: Starting May 1, Babcock Ranch and FPL’s Eco-Discovery Center might be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at 8500 S.R. 31, Punta Gorda. It’s free. Info: 941-300-7315.

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