Solar v. Trees. You be the judge!

"In a case with statewide significance, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is pursuing a Sunnyvale couple under a little-known California law because redwood trees in their backyard cast a shadow over their neighbor's solar panels."

Read about it here (link requires registration).

Some facts from the article to consider if you don't want to register:
1) Defendants planted the trees between 1997 and 1999, for privacy.

2) Plaintiff installed his 10-kW solar system in 2001. It's "so big he pays only about $60 a year in electrical bills. He drives an electric car."

3) Plaintiff [Solar] asked Defendant [Trees] first to remove the trees, then later to trim them to 15 feet, finally offered to pay for removal--all before installing his system. Defendants declined every offer.

4) California has a rarely used Solar Shade Control Act written "to guarantee, amid the energy crises of the 1970s, that people who installed solar panels wouldn't see a drop in their investment from nearby trees."
"[The law] affects only trees planted after 1979, and bans trees or shrubs from shading more than 10 percent of a neighbor's solar panels between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. It does not apply to trees or shrubs that were there before the solar panels were installed. But - and here's the key distinction - it does apply to existing trees and shrubs that later grew big enough to shade the solar panels. A violation is an infraction, like a parking ticket, but with fines of up to $1,000 a day."
[Hmm. Was the fee set at $1000 in 1979? Because in today's money...]

5) Kurt Newick, a seller of solar energy systems and chair of the global warming committee of his local Sierra Club chapter, says "it's actually better for the environment to put solar on your roof than to plant a tree...[o]n average, a tree only sequesters 14 pounds of carbon dioxide a year and a solar electric system offsets that every two or three days," he said.
You may, or may not, also wish to consider the following:

1) Redwoods are not native to Sunnyvale. These trees are currently 20-40' high and will keep growing straight up from a central leader. However, redwoods can be topped and sheared into attractive hedges.

2) Many other trees, including several natives, can be held to heights lower than 20-40'.

3) In addition to sequestering 14 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, trees, especially large ones, provide habitat for various kinds of animal, bird, and insect life.

Please vote!

ADDED: I deleted the blog poll. I think it caused me to lose control of the web page or something.

ADDED: An update.


JvA said...

Wow. That's a hard one. Taking you at your word that redwoods can be successfully topped. That helps tip me in the direction of solar; I might feel differently about different trees. And it doesn't seem like California law takes that into account.

JvA said...

So are people in California using solar to keep their neighbors from building up?

weeder1 said...

If redwoods can be successfully topped, perhaps the tree owners should acquiesce? If 15' trees will still give them some privacy, both parties could be happy.

chuck b. said...

I think you must have to top them when they're small. But you can read about hedging them in books. I was surprised when I read about it, but my Plant ID instructor said they make beautiful hedges. I've never seen one.

We have solar. Guy thought the easement over the neighbor (who can't add a third story without a court order) was a strong, ancillary benefit. I think it must be hard to add a third story in San Francisco no matter what. The preservationists have made it hard to make any changes whatsoever to existing structures. We've benefited from that. How do I feel about it? Well...

Brent said...

Regardless of personal convictions, it is The Law and it seem pretty clear in this case. Verdict for solar guy.

The offers solar guy made to replace the non-native redwoods with more appropriate trees just add weight to the case against the tree folk.

My neighbor has a redwood planted under the utility lines. Every year or two Edison comes by and tops it. It's umbrella-like now, with 10' truck and just a longish fringe of branches on top. I suspect that it won't make it many more years and I suspect it will be $1-2k to take out the remnants when it dies.

Like my neighbor, it looks like tree folk should have planted more appropriately to begin with.

chuck b. said...

I'm not sure they can be topped at this height...I'm not sure what happens to hedge them. But they grow fast, so if redwoods it must be, a redwood hedge is not out of the question even if that means starting from new plants.

Frances, said...

Wow! This is an emotional issue. The gardeners might tend to side with the trees, as of right now the poll is showing the trees winning. But there may be more at work here than tree vs. solar. Neighbor disputes often are personal, or have escalated to that state. I was on a jury once that involved a property dispute that had an assault charge, for a push while clicking pictures for evidence. Very childish.

Christopher C. NC said...

The tree people are just being stubborn. It sounds as if they can replace the Redwoods with any number of alternatives and if the elevation change is such that the privacy they need is from above, then a trellis, arbor, or pergola that will create a roof will give them that privacy.

There needs to be a certain amount of give and take about trees in suburban environments. I hated it it when my Buttercup Tree was brutally beheaded, but "The View" is more important in a way and I had to live with it. I never expected the Buttercup Tree to get that big. I must be a good gardener.

Gardener of La Mancha said...

From my experience, I'm confident that adult redwoods will survive a topping, but it will be ugly and you'll have to coninually shear back because it will just keep sprouting and sprouting. If they cut off all the side branches as well, it will sprout all over and then can be (intensively) managed as a hedge. I've seen redwood hedges that are really beautiful, but they require constant, constant sheering.