Business Florida 2022 - The Regions
Alachua • Bradford • Columbia • Dixie • Gilchrist • Hamilton • Lafayette • Levy • Madison • Marion • Suwannee • Taylor • Union
With plenty of sunshine and wide-open spaces, North Central Florida continues to draw interest in solar energy development.
Duke Energy Florida opened its first North Central universal solar plant — the Perry Solar Facility in Taylor County — in October 2016. Four years later, at another North Central site — Columbia Solar Power Plant in Fort White — workers would install Duke’s one millionth solar panel in Florida. Between 2016 and 2021, Duke has constructed solar power plants in five North Central counties — Columbia, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Suwanee and Taylor — and it’s not finished yet.
In July 2021, Duke announced plans to build four new solar sites in Florida, three of which will be located in Florida’s North Central region: the Hildreth Solar Power Plant on 635 acres in Suwanee County; the Hardeetown Solar Power Plant on 650 acres in Levy County; and the High Springs Solar Power Plant on 700 acres in Alachua County.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the state, Florida’s largest generator of solar energy — Juno Beach-based Florida Power & Light Co. — has surpassed the 40% mark in its “30-by-30” plan to install 30 million solar panels by 2030. Of its three dozen solar facilities currently operating across the Sunshine State, two are in Florida’s North Central Region: Horizon Solar Energy Center, which opened in 2018 to serve Alachua and Putnam counties, and Sunshine Gateway Solar Energy Center located in Columbia County. And coming to this region from FPL: Union Springs Solar Energy Center, the first facility of its kind in North Central’s Union County.
KEY PLAYERS: Duke Energy, Charlotte, N.C.; Florida Power & Light Co., Juno Beach
Life & Leisure
Walk on the Wild Side
North Central’s 13 counties offer tons of outdoor recreational options. This part of Florida is famous for its natural springs, and you can enjoy them without getting wet aboard a glass-bottom boat at Florida’s oldest tourist attraction, Silver Springs in Ocala. And while you’re in the neighborhood, check out the amenities at Florida’s newest state park, Gilchrist Blue Springs or take a hike in the Ocala National Forest, but do keep a sharp eye out — this is black bear country! And by all means, catch a glimpse of old Florida with a stop along the Gulf Coast in Cedar Key. Just be sure to save room for a bowl of the award-winning clam chowder at Tony’s. It’s worth the drive!
Enjoy Urban Delights
Gainesville gets high marks as a great college town, but with so much to see and do on and off campus it’s also a good place to settle down. Sites of interest on the UF campus include the Florida Museum of Natural History where general admission is free, but the Butterfly Rainforest is not. Don’t miss it or the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art just next door. Also of interest in and around Gainesville: the Cade Museum for Creativity & Invention; the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo; and 15 minutes to the south of Gainesville, the town of Micanopy, Florida’s self-proclaimed antiques capital with dozens of shops to explore.