Flagstaff EcoRanch – Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff EcoRanch’s Journey into Solar Power

Nestled amidst the landscape of Flagstaff, Arizona, lies a sanctuary of sustainability, Flagstaff EcoRanch. Here, Jeff Meliander, the visionary owner, has cultivated not just crops but a thriving community dedicated to organic farming and environmental education. However, beneath the rustic charm of this eco-haven lies a modern marvel: a solar power system, quietly revolutionizing the ranch’s energy dynamics.

The journey towards solar energy at Flagstaff EcoRanch began in 2020 when the barn’s rooftop became the canvas for a 14.1-kilowatt system, comprising 44 solar panels. For Meliander, a seasoned educator and fervent advocate of sustainable living, the decision to embrace solar was a natural progression in his quest for self-sufficiency and environmental stewardship.

“I’ve been living in Arizona and teaching since 2004,” Meliander shares, his passion evident in his words. “But it was during my time as a teacher that I realized the limitations of traditional education in instilling environmental consciousness. I wanted to bring sustainability to life, to create an immersive experience that would resonate with people.”

Flagstaff EcoRanch isn’t just a farm; it’s a living classroom where visitors gain firsthand insights into small-scale agriculture and sustainable living practices. From hosting interns and volunteers to welcoming school tours, the ranch has become a hub of experiential learning, with over 20,000 volunteer hours donated towards its mission.

Meliander’s transition from educator to eco-entrepreneur underscores his commitment to turning ideas into action. “I wanted to break free from the confines of the classroom and create a tangible impact,” he reflects. “That’s why I founded the EcoRanch—to demonstrate that sustainable living is not just a concept but a way of life.”

The decision to go solar wasn’t merely about reducing energy bills; it was a strategic move towards energy independence and environmental responsibility. Despite initial skepticism about solar efficiency and concerns over warranty longevity, Meliander took the leap of faith, spurred on by the promise of a Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant.

“REAP was a game-changer,” he acknowledges. “It provided the financial impetus we needed to make solar a reality. Without it, the transition might have been a lot more daunting. It was a catalyst, to know that I could knock off 13 grand was pretty awesome. Had REAP not existed, I don’t know if I would have made the jump.”

Navigating the REAP application process was surprisingly smooth for Meliander, thanks to the program’s streamlined approach and supportive staff. “It felt like they were eager to help rural businesses like ours thrive,” he recalls. “There was minimal red tape, and the focus was on getting solar on farms.”

With solar panels adorning the barn’s rooftop, Flagstaff EcoRanch now harnesses the sun’s energy to power its operations sustainably. The return on investment has been nothing short of remarkable, with significant savings on energy bills and a tangible reduction in environmental footprint. 

“Going solar has been transformative,” Meliander attests. “Not only are we saving money, but we’re also reducing our reliance on conventional energy sources. It’s a win-win for us and the planet. From March through December I don’t pay an energy bill.”

Looking ahead, Meliander envisions expanding the ranch’s solar capacity and advocating for solar initiatives within the local community, particularly among Indigenous populations and agricultural families.

“Solar power isn’t just about energy; it’s about empowerment,” he asserts. “By harnessing the sun’s abundant energy, we can create a more sustainable future for generations to come.”

As the sun sets over Flagstaff EcoRanch, casting a golden glow on the verdant landscape, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the power of solar energy transcends mere electricity—it illuminates the path towards a greener, more resilient world.

REAP offers grants and loans to make solar more affordable. These grants are for up to 50% of the system cost and loans are available through a competitive application process. The Inflation Reduction Act quadrupled funding for the program. The USDA has also increased the number of application windows per year to four (quarterly) through 2024. This means there is more opportunity to secure funding to add solar to farms and rural businesses.

Those interested in assistance can join Ready, Set, Solar, REAP online: Ready, Set, Solar!

As part of the program participants receive:

  • A week of emails introducing the REAP grant process and a REAP guide, followed by an email a week with bite-size to-do’s for the remaining nine weeks
  • Unbiased, installer-neutral advice and expertise
  • Support from a network of peers, including SUN staff and previous REAP grantees 

Additional REAP resources provided by SUN include:

USDA REAP FAQ (at the bottom of the page)