Kitson, who is planning to raise outside capital as the project progresses, said he is attempting to persuade several companies to set up shop in Babcock Ranch. He is targeting solar panel manufacturers, lithium-ion battery makers and other clean-energy companies.
"We'd like Babcock Ranch to be the seed, where we could really start the R&D ... and have other companies come in and expand on that," Kitson said.
Back on the ranch
Florida Power & Light aims to break ground on the more than $350 million solar PV project as soon as this year, pending regulatory approval. The 75-megawatt generator would be the largest of its kind in the world and supply surplus electricity to the grid, noted Eric Silagy, FP&'s chief development officer.
The utility plans to raise electricity costs to pay for the project, he noted. The typical residential customer would see his power bill go up by about 20 cents a month.
"We're looking forward to breaking ground on this project as soon as possible, getting the legislative and regulatory support to move it forward, bringing more jobs to southwest Florida and showcasing the cleantech corridor," Silagy added.
Construction crews plan to break ground on Babcock Ranch's infrastructure next year and begin building homes and offices in 2011, Kitson said. The entire city would be certified by the nonprofit Florida Green Building Coalition.
Homes and offices would be able to tap into a high-capacity digital pipeline and use "smart grid" meters to adjust their energy use. A study conducted by the economic research firm Fishkind & Associates Inc. for Kitson projects that Babcock Ranch would generate 20,000 permanent jobs in technology, retail, education, construction and other sectors over 20 years.
Past promises of economically and environmentally sustainable development, however, have earned other Florida developers ample skepticism from conservationists.
Even before the economic crisis, water was beginning to govern growth in Florida.
Six million South Florida residents get their water from the Biscayne Aquifer that underlies Everglades National Park and parts of four counties in southeast Florida. Drawing down the aquifer too much could divert water from the southern Everglades and invite saltwater intrusion, warn state regulators, who have rejected several permits on such grounds.
In late 2007, developer Anthony Pugliese III announced plans to build the town of "Destiny," about an hour's drive southeast of Orlando. The city would rise from a 41,000-acre patch of Osceola County known as Yeehaw Junction.
Pugliese initially planned to conserve 60 percent of the site as open space and turn the remainder of the land into a city for 250,000 residents.
"Right now, our property is in the middle of nowhere, but it's really going to be in the center of it all," the project's marketing director said then.
Representatives of Pugliese Co., who did not return phone calls seeking comment, have angered some conservation groups who would like more input over which land is conserved. The project would sit within the Kissimmee River Basin, which drains into Lake Okeechobee.
"It started out looking very attractive to us," Audubon's Lee said. "But the difficult situation now is that the development is looking more and more like a convention thing rather than its initial innovative promise.