It’s an epic debate for the environmentally conscious – the tree versus the solar panel. Which does more for the environment?
The debate found a battleground in California, and the April 7 “CBS Evening News” highlighted the legal conflict between environmentalist neighbors – one who prefers shade trees and the other who prefers solar panels.
“Richard Treanor lives across the fence, drives a hybrid car,” CBS correspondent Ben Tracy said. “Ten years ago he planted these redwoods to provide privacy. Now they had his neighbor seeing red.”
“He called us over to the fence one day and said ‘I am going to be installing solar panels and therefore you have to take your trees down,’” Treanor explained. Treanor ended up having to remove his trees thanks to an obscure California law.
“As it turns out, the law was on the side of the sun,” said Tracy. “The California Solar Shade Act requires homeowners to keep their trees from shading more than 10 percent of their neighbor’s solar panels between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. The experts determined that 15 percent of Mark’s solar panels were being shaded by those trees. That meant the trees were in violation and the neighbors that owned them – criminals.”
According to California’s 1978 Solar Shade Control Act, if your neighbor decided to install solar panels and trees on your property were blocking those panels, even if the trees were in place first, they would have to be cut down.
Solar energy isn’t yet affordable for most – a point completely ignored by “Evening News.” Even Anne Thompson, NBC’s chief environmental affairs correspondent, reported March 14 it would require a carbon cap-and-trade system affecting prices to make the unaffordable affordable when it comes to solar power.
Aside from violating personal property rights, cutting down trees in the name of allowing sunlight to reach solar panels ignores the entire premise for promoting alternative energy: to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Trees reduce greenhouse gases; solar panels don’t – as a March 12 Sacramento (Calif.) Union editorial explained.
“Trees provide shade, absorb global-warming gases, produce oxygen and moderate ambient air temperatures. But this means nothing,” the editorial said. “Thirty years ago a governor and Legislature … meted out the death sentence to any plant that gets in the way of someone seeking solar tax credits.”
As solar power becomes more affordable, more of these conflicts will arise, predicts a legal scholar.
“As solar panels become more and more cost-effective, you're going to see more and more disputes between homeowners of this nature,” Barton “Buzz” Thompson, a law professor Stanford University, told CBS.
“But that, of course would require an inconvenient truce,” Tracy added.