Babcock Ranch – The First Solar City in the United States


Babcock Ranch – The First Solar City in the United States                       by Tim Rumage


I have long believed that our electricity supply system had a vitamin D deficiency. We were not getting enough sunlight into the equation.

I’m well versed in both the potential and viability of solar energy, and the promise of sustainability. I’m also an advocate of Buckminster Fuller’s design philosophy and a disciple of Ian McHarg’s “Design with Nature.”

Just a few days ago I saw all those concepts and solutions become manifest at Babcock Ranch, Florida. Babcock Ranch is the best example of experiential design for real-life daily-living anywhere that I know of.

Imagine a community integrated into a nature preserve with 50 miles of hiking and biking trails. From home you can easily walk to town, to a trailhead or to a series of lakes. The town is complete with schools and health care facilities as well as community gardens, a five acre farm and a seasonally/locally sourced farm to table restaurant. And it is all solar powered… and all homes include one Gbps Wi-Fi.

The most amazing part is… you don’t have to imagine it. You can go see it, visit it, or even buy a home and move in.

Working with Florida Power and Light, Babcock Ranch runs off a 400 acre, 74.5-megawatt solar array that provides enough energy for the town at build out (50,000 people) plus neighboring customers. A 10-megawatt energy storage system will soon be installed, and a second 74.5-megawatt solar array is under construction to expand solar power availability to the region.

I think they should put up a sign at the entrance to Babcock Ranch that says “Your dependence on fossil fuels ends when you enter here.” Mass transit in Babcock Ranch, in case you don’t want to walk or bike, is provided via solar powered electric autonomous vehicles.

Stewardship of Babcock Ranch extends well beyond its use of solar energy. Existing wetlands have all been preserved in place and in function. A rain garden has been added to the system to mitigate and treat storm water coming off the roads. The forests are professionally managed with prescribed burns and selective cuttings. Cattle are still grazed, watermelons still grown, streams and stream habitats are well maintained. Endangered species habitat has been enhanced, and commercial bee hives assist with pollination and to produce honey.

The building code ensures that homes are weather/climate appropriate, well insulated and energy efficient. The plant palette for home/community landscapes relies heavily on native plants, and includes restrictions on both the amount of area devoted to lawns and the types of grass that can be used. There are also set-asides for existing native trees. When native trees are in the way of construction, they are not bulldozed, but are transplanted in new locations on the property.

Babcock Ranch is a game-changer for new developments, urban expansion or redevelopments. It clearly demonstrates that cutting-edge sustainability can cost effectively be accomplished using progressive design and clean energy. As such, designing traditional fossil fuel dependent communities in the future will be seen as inefficient and short-sighted.

Babcock Ranch eliminates the excuse that solar power can’t work at city scale. In fact, their solar installation is designed to operate at city scale.

Solar power, autonomous vehicles, local food, and hiking trails; it’s like George Jetson living in a Nature Preserve. Who doesn’t want to live where the benefits of technological advancements helps ensure the natural and historic integrity of place?



Additional Information:

The first residents of Babcock Ranch are scheduled to move in early January 2018.

To get to Babcock Ranch, Florida take exit 143 off of I-75.                      Go east on State Road 78.                                                                                              At the junction of SR 78 with State Road 31, go North SR 31  to Crescent Loop.                                                                                                                      At Crescent Loop go East to the Town Center of Babcock Ranch.             From I-75 to Crescent Loop is approximately 8.8 miles.

Marley’s Ghost

To me, the significance of the winter solstice is not that it is the longest night and the shortest day; it is the promise of the sun before the depth of winter. It is the sign that hope and joy overcome dark and cold- be it of the seasons or of our souls. The winter solstice is about renewal, beginnings and the coming warmth of spring. It is a time of celebration; for each day is longer, brighter, stronger. Perhaps that is why the winter solstice tends to bring to mind “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.

Like many people I enjoy witnessing Scrooge’s transformation from ‘business’ Scrooge to ‘humanitarian’ Scrooge with the aid of the three spirits. At the start of the story, Scrooge, like many of us, is a victim of siloed thinking. This is what I am, and this is what I do. And my worldview and assessment of others is based on the measures I use to quantify and qualify success in the context of my silo.

`But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’
faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

But it’s Marley’s Ghost who is the hero and guiding light of the story. His words are the ones to which we should pay attention- for he is the bringing the change of consciousness. He may even be the first businessman to promote the Triple Bottom Line, who also understood the hierarchical value of the Planet>People >Profit, and explained the scope and balance of concerns needed to achieve sustainability.

`Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.                        `Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.     The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water                                                in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’                                             Marley’s ghost

The story of Scrooge shows that we can change our behaviors and our priorities when we have a change of consciousness. He may have needed the assistance and reminders of three consultants (Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future), but ultimately it is Scrooge who, in heart, mind and body, comprehends the need for change.

Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends,                                                              to which, if persevered in, they must lead.                                                             But if the courses be departed from,                                                                             the ends will change.

And so it is with Scrooge. He departs from his previous course and thrives by living his altered life.

He did it all, and infinitely more;

And so it is with humanity today. The extreme environmental events we are living with and through; the growing disparity of incomes; the social angst, malaise, anger, hunger, and frustration are the foreshadowing of the growing grimness of our coming future if we stay our current course.

Will we embrace the words of Marley as Scrooge did, and change? Or will we stay in our silos and pretend that our trade is more important than everything else now and forever?

It is are not only for what we do that we are held responsible,                        but also for what we do not do.                                                                              Moliere







except for Moliere,

all quotes are from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens




We are all on this together

 “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality                                                    tied in a single garment of destiny,                                                                      whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.                                                                                                      Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Atmospheric CO2 increases as Seas, Soil and Trees are Overwhelmed

On December 12, 2015 the Paris Climate Accord (PCA)*1 was adopted by consensus of the 195 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). News reports showed the celebrative mood of the participants. Not only had the PCA been agreed upon, but the plan was going to try to limit global average temperature increase to 1.5oC (2.7oF) surpassing the original goal of limiting global warming to 2oC (3.6oF).

In 2016, the amount of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) rose by 3.3 ppm*2 (25.77 billion metric tonnes of CO2)*3 to 403.3ppm, the largest single year increase in 30 years. In a healthy, functionally stable ecosystem, the carbon exchange balances out on an annual cycle between the atmosphere, the ocean and organisms. It is during transition periods from one type of climate to another that we see major releases or sequestrations of atmospheric gases.

In 2017, the world is witnessing the first increase in CO2 emissions in 3 years*4. The estimated rise is 2%, most of that coming from an increase in the use of Coal.

The Paris Climate Agreement is a well-intended document. While the PAC was a step forward in getting people and countries to agree that climate change was real, was taking place, was a liability, was human caused, and that the worst outcomes could be avoided by human action, the agreement had several weaknesses.

One was that each country set its own voluntary, non-legally binding target projections to reduce emissions. The second was the 5-year time lag between agreeing to the PAC and the official start of the agreement. The third, and most problematic weakness, was that the cumulative promise made by all parties was too meager to achieve the stated goal; thus creating the Paris Gap*5between preference and reality.

There is another critical factor to remember when trying to mitigate climate change, and that is simple reality – contrary to human nature – that humans are not in control of the myriad synergistic interactions that make up the life sustaining characteristics of Planet Earth. With climate change,

 we’re not only dealing with forces of a far greater variety                            than even the atomic physicist encounters, but with life itself.”                     Dr. Frack C. Baxter*6

The increase in atmospheric CO2 in 2016 was not about an increase in emissions, but the decrease in the capacity of the ocean and plant life to uptake (absorb or use) the CO2 due to droughts, wildfires, and high temperatures*7. Humanity’s previous emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) contributes to the cause, severity, and changing frequency of these events making more and more of these events Human’s Nature.

The increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 was a result of the increased burning of coal*8. In some cases, the coal was burnt to generate additional electricity to support a growing economy. In other cases, coal was burnt to replace the hydroelectric power that was unavailable due to reduced water volume in rivers. The degree to which we humans choose to think locally rather than planetarily is the measure of the amount of “unintended consequences” that we can generate globally.

Actions speak louder than words. Knowledge is neither a viable nor functional substitution for doing.

Nations do behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives Abba Eban, Foreign Minister, Israel. 1966-1974*9

it’s not enough that we do our best;                                                              sometimes we have to do what’s required.                                                     Winston Churchill*10

Let’s hope we get all of our insufficient efforts and rationales for procrastination out of our way and out of our minds quickly enough to fulfill the promises we made to ourselves and our descendants in the Paris Climate Agreement. Failure should not be our default option of convenience or intentions for

we are entering a period of consequences.                                                     Winston Churchill*11




– Tim












Sustainability in a Changing World, a talk by Alize´ Carrère

On Monday night I was at a talk by Alize´ Carrère.

While the presentation was entitled “Sustainability in a Changing World,” its real focus was on how individuals/communities/cultures are adapting to the climate change that they are currently facing.

Her key examples were the Lavakas of Madagascar, floating gardens and floating farms in Bangladesh, The Shupta Project, and the last was about a community spear fishing Crown of Thorn Starfish and turning them into organic compost.

According to Darwin’s Origin of Species,                                                                        it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives;                                      it is not the strongest that survives;                                                                             but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.                           Leon C. Megginson

The Lavaka are the “holes” made in the landscape when the ground collapses after deforestation and the tree roots are no longer available to help stabilize the soil structure. The question then becomes what should one do – restore the prior landscape or adapt to the new landscape? Restore would focus on replanting the missing forest to regain habitat while creating a carbon sink. However, many of the local individuals have opted to adapt to the new landscape. The vegetation in the Lavakas is less prone to fire, and the drainage in the Lavakas makes them an ideal place to grow crops.

As to the floating gardens and farms in Bangladesh, the issue there is that the combination of Sea Level Rise, more powerful monsoons, and river flooding due to glacier melt means that in some parts of the country ‘wet’ has become the predominate condition. As such housing, schooling and agriculture have needed to adapt to a water world. So boats have become the architecture of education, while rafts and constructed floating islands have become the ‘fields’ of farming. Frequently the buoyant farms have nets suspended underneath them for fish farming and/or a mesh enclosure around them that serves as a duck pen. Adaptive innovation provided a way to maintain community independence thus avoiding the uncertainty of becoming a climate refugee.

The Shupa Project has allowed people to continue farming and living in the region even though the presence of glacial melt water has become unpredictable. The adaptation in this project was to siphon water from the glacier fed streams and use the difference in pressure between high elevation source of the water and the lower elevation farming areas to create a water fountain. During the winter, the water droplets are caught on strands of thread or metal and freeze. Some of the ice shupas created are as much as 90 feet tall! Then the melt water from the ice shupas is used as the irrigation source for agriculture.

Regarding the Crown of Thorn Starfish (COTs), this issue was generated by over harvesting the trumpet shell conch because of their value in the tourist and shell trades. Once the predator was gone, the COTs population increased and resulted in the overgrazing and killing of the coral reefs. The adaptation was to spear the COTs and transport them to land. (The COTs are speared due to the toxicity of the starfish). Once the COTs have dried, they are crushed and used as fertilizer.

Alize´ spoke of the three options a community has relative to environmental changes it is experiencing: mitigate, adapt, or suffer. The degree to which the previous examples are coping mechanism or solutions will be determined by the success of mitigation at the planetary scale relative to the adaptive capacity of the community.

She then expanded the conversation to how do you teach high-stakes problem in a low-stakes environment? The concern is that those with a “comfortable reality” are potentially the least adaptable. Adaptation is a mindset. But if you believe that you or your community has sufficient financial capability and an adequate period of time to avoid or minimize the impact of a changing environment, then you may not respond to the coming risks and liabilities soon enough or fast enough. Rather than adapting, the functional outcome of your strategy may be to make yourself a climate refugee. Currently, it is the people on the edge who are adapting.

She closed the presentation with the request that we make an effort to change the narrative of climate change and its associated attributes from doom and loss to one of resilience. With apologies to Vivian Greene, our climate focus should not be on the size of the harm, but our ability to adapt to the change if we want our communities to have a viable and, hopefully, verdant future.

– Tim Rumage

7 Nov. 2017


Images of the aforementioned and similar projects can be found on line.

Alize´ is a Cultural Ecologist and a National Geographic Explorer