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Growing a Sustainable Future in Central Florida

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Summer/Fall 2015   


Growing a Sustainable Future in Central Florida

In 2008, residents of the Central Florida region — seven counties in the Everglades between Miami and Orlando — embarked on a visioning process to determine how their region should develop over the next several decades. Bolstered by a $1.6 million Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant from HUD, the Central Florida Regional Planning Council (CFRPC) launched Heartland 2060, a data-driven regional plan that calls for preserving and protecting natural areas, agriculture, and wildlife; supporting healthy communities; and ensuring a vibrant economic and social life for residents. The challenge for Heartland 2060’s supporters is how to accommodate growth and provide employment opportunities in the predominantly agricultural region, which is expected to add about 870,000 residents over the next 50 years, doubling its current population. All seven counties assisted in formulating the plan, which provides a toolkit of development strategies and information to empower local leaders to make informed decisions.1

A photo of a eucalyptus plantation.
U.S. EcoGen’s plantation will use the variant grandis, a species of eucalyptus that produces a woody biomass and grows quickly in sub-tropical climates.

Central Florida’s rural character and dependence on agriculture are two of its defining characteristics, says Shannon Brett, program director at CFRPC.2 Heartland 2060 declares that agriculture is “a foundation of the past, present and future.” Along with mining and retail services, agriculture-related employment is a pillar of the regional economy.3 As a result, agriculture shapes Central Florida’s emissions and energy use. A report completed under the auspices of the planning grant found that most greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions result from agriculture, with the largest portion emanating from livestock; methane makes up a much larger share of emissions for the Central Florida region than for the state as a whole. On the other hand, the region’s energy consumption per person is lower than the state’s per-person average.4

Agriculture will continue to be an important component of the regional economy. A surprising, but interesting, outcome of the planning process, says Brett, was the compatibility of renewable energy with agriculture. “We found that we have the land area to grow crops that can be used for renewable energy.” Brett cites eucalyptus plantations being developed by U.S. EcoGen in Polk County as an example of an economically productive marriage of energy and agriculture.5 Eucalyptus trees are among the fastest-growing hardwood trees and can be converted into biofuel to generate power. Eucalyptus plantations can also reduce GHG emissions. Florida’s subtropical climate is ideal for eucalyptus, mirroring the species’ native home of Australia.6 The Polk County plantation is expected to produce enough fuel to generate 180 megawatts of electricity, which should provide power to 50,000 residential customers by 2019.7

CFRPC sees the energy industry as an emerging sector that promises significant positive outcomes for the region.8 Although many current renewable energy projects are small, Brett argues that supporting incipient projects is important for diversifying the regional economy and positioning Central Florida to take advantage of new sources of employment and economic growth.9

  1. Central Florida Regional Planning Council. 2014. Heartland 2060: Building a Resilient Region, 19, 39; Central Florida Regional Planning Council. "Heartland 2060: 5-Year Strategic Plan," Heartland 2060 website ( Accessed 27 July 2015; EcoAsset Solutions. 2013. "Florida Heartland Energy Baseline and Greenhouse Gas Inventory," prepared for Central Florida Regional Planning Council, ES1–ES15.
  2. Interview with Shannon Brett, 24 July 2015.
  3. Central Florida Regional Planning Council 2014, 4, 7, 14.
  4. EcoAsset Solutions, ES1–ES15.
  5. Interview with Shannon Brett; U.S. EcoGen. "USEG Polk Plantation" ( Accessed 27 July 2015.
  6. Jesse Daystar, Ronalds Gonzalez, Carter Reeb, Richard A. Venditti, Trevor Treasure, Robert Abt, and Steve Kelley. 2014. "Economics, Environmental Impacts, and Supply Chain Analysis of Cellulosic Biomass for Biofuels in the Southern US: Pine, Eucalyptus, Unmanaged Hardwoods, Forest Residues, Switchgrass, and Sweet Sorghum," BioResources 9:1, 396, 418–20.
  7. Bruce Dorminey. 2013. "Florida Innovates with Its Eucalyptus and Citrus for Biomass Production,", 11 January ( Accessed 27 July 2015.
  8. Central Florida Regional Planning Council 2014, 26; Central Florida Regional Planning Council. 2014. "Heartland Economic Futures," 3–7.
  9. Interview with Shannon Brett.


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