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Planned Florida city aims for solar self-sufficiency

Florida Power & Light plans to build the world's largest solar photovoltaic power plant at Babcock Ranch--making it the world's first city powered by solar energy.

This illustration offers a glimpse of what the planned city of Babcock Ranch might look like. Kitson & Partners

One of the world's biggest photovoltaic projects is planned for southwest Florida. Florida Power & Light will spend $350 million to build a 75-megawatt photovoltaic solar plant at a planned city, Babcock Ranch, near Fort Myers, the company announced Thursday.

Construction could begin late this year, subject to state regulatory approvals.

Eric Silagy, the ultility's chief development officer, said at a press conference that the company's photovoltaic project is larger than any previously announced.

"We are extremely excited to be building one of the world's largest solar photovoltaic projects, once the state legislative and regulatory authorities have taken the necessary actions for us to move forward," said Silagy.

A 60MW photovoltaic solar plant in Spain has been in operation since 2008, according to PV Resources. But the Babcock Ranch plant could be the largest if it reaches 75MW output--before somebody else does. Photovoltaic cells convert sunlight into electricity.

The developers, Kitson & Partners, hope that Babcock Ranch will be the world's first city to get all its energy from renewable solar energy.

"The FPL solar plant will be inside Babcock Ranch. Along with solar panels on the roofs of buildings citywide, it will be a revolutionary leap forward in clean energy for an urban area," said Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners, in a statement.

The Sierra Club's national clean-energy representative and the World Wildlife Fund support the project and hope that it will influence other U.S. cities.

Babcock Ranch will be wireless-enabled using an ultrahigh-capacity "digital pipeline" that will support the use of current and emerging technologies, plus clean-tech efforts, according to press materials.

Kitson & Partners

"Electric vehicles, able to plug in for recharge at convenient community-wide recharging stations, will glide along avenues beneath the glow of solar-powered street lamps. Ingenious, revolutionary Smart Grid technologies will monitor and manage energy use while Smart Home technology will allow residents to operate their homes at maximum efficiency, thereby reducing energy costs," Kitson & Partners writes on the Babcock Ranch home page.

Florida Power & Light also hopes that the solar-powered city will generate so much power that it will be able to serve the grid with additional electricity. Kitson & Partners hopes that the Babcock Ranch will become a test bed for clean-tech companies. "Babcock Ranch will be a living laboratory for companies, workers and families ready to reap the rewards of innovation," said Kitson in a statement.

The city of Babcock Ranch will include 6 million square feet of retail, commercial, office, civic, and light industrial space. The entire project is expected to cost $2 billion. Projected prices for the planned 19,500 homes were not provided, but the homes should be "affordable for workers and families across the economic spectrum," according to Kitson & Partners.