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“They need to understand it”: Babcock Ranch powers up solar education with eco-discovery center

In honor of Earth Day, “America’s First Solar Powered Town” unveils educational hub to spark young minds towards sustainability
Posted at 8:10 PM, Apr 22, 2024

BABCOCK RANCH, Fla. — In honor of Earth Day, Babcock ranch unveiled its new Eco-Discovery Center at Solar Ranch - the solar field that powers the entire town. Fox 4’s Community Correspondent, Austin Schargorodski, went to the ceremony to see how it aims to educate young people in our community about solar energy.

Babcock Ranch Founder and CEO, Syd Kitson, speaking at the unveiling ceremony for the new Eco-Discovery Center at Solar Ranch.
Babcock Ranch Founder and CEO, Syd Kitson, speaking at the unveiling ceremony for the new Eco-Discovery Center at Solar Ranch.

Solar panels sprawl as far as the eye can see at the solar ranch, producing enough energy to power 30,000 homes at Babcock Ranch.

But, until now, Babcock Ranch founder and CEO, Syd Kitson, said there hasn’t been a great way to show people the behind the scenes of “America’s First Solar Powered Town.”

Solar panels sprawling as far as the eye can see at Babcock Ranch's Solar Ranch.
Solar panels sprawling as far as the eye can see at Babcock Ranch's Solar Ranch.

“It’s been a little frustrating not letting them come up and see what we’re doing. But, now we can do that with this beautiful building that Florida Power and Light (FPL) built,” said Kitson.

He says the building has interactive exhibits to show people how solar power works and why it’s so important, along with an electric vehicle driving simulator.

Some of the interactive exhibits in the main room of Babcock Ranch's new Eco-Discovery Center.
Some of the interactive exhibits in the main room of Babcock Ranch's new Eco-Discovery Center.

“They need to understand it, learn it now, so in the future it will be second nature to them,” Kitson stated.

The exhibit extends out onto a three-story viewing tower, which overlooks the solar field. Kitson says one of its biggest impacts so far was keeping the town powered through Hurricane Ian.

Educational exhibits at the top of the three-story viewing tower overlooking the solar field.
Educational exhibits at the top of the three-story viewing tower overlooking the solar field.

“Normally, you’re in the darkness - you’ve got flashlights and radios and all your emergency equipment," Kitson said, reflecting on the resilience of the town during Hurricane Ian. "But, nope, you can just sit there and watch it on TV go right over the top of you."

Don Bishop, who has lived in Babcock Ranch for six years, said capabilities like that are what drew him to the neighborhood.

“You could tell there was a vision to this place because of all the infrastructure that was built here,” said Bishop.

Arial view of a neighborhood in Babcock Ranch.
Arial view of a neighborhood in Babcock Ranch.

Bishop says he believes the Eco-Discovery Center will inspire young people to get into solar energy, just like Babcock Ranch has done for him.

“We ended up putting solar on our rooftop and are close to being net zero,” Bishop said.

FPL’s vice president of external affairs and economic development, Pam Rauch, said this is just the beginning of FPL’s neighborhood partnerships.

“You’re going to be seeing our solar energy centers going up everywhere because it’s the most cost effective, and we’re also protecting Florida’s environment at the same time,” Rauch explained.

The Eco-Discovery Center will be open to the public on May 1.