Coming soon: a million solar spats?

Mark Vargas installed the solar panels. But where's the sun?The case of one Sunnyvale, Calif., neighbor’s redwood trees versus another neighbor’s solar panels and hot tub ended up in court and is still not settled, according to a story in the New York Times.

The story is long and convoluted, with eight redwood trees in question. When were they planted? How tall were they when the neighbor installed his solar panels? How many trees were planted after he installed the panels?

A judge ruled, according the article, that “trees Nos. 4, 5 and 6, which cast little shade when the solar panels were installed, were now collectively blocking more than 10 percent of the panels over the hot tub. Trees Nos. 1, 2 and 3 shaded the area when the panels were installed, so they were exempt, and Trees Nos. 7 and 8 did not violate the law.”

Does the solar guy have a right to get sun on his property? Do any of us have a right to get sun on our properties? If we want and need sun, do we have to move if a neighbor decides to plant 30- or 40- or 60-foot trees, or even taller ones that block the sun?

This case is waiting resolution until the winter solstice in December so a judge can see if tree No. 6, which was trimmed in a really bizarre way, will allow enough sun to satisfy the Solar Shade Act of 1978.

The case is being watched by solar power advocates, private property advocates and those in the legal profession.

Meanwhile, Joe Simitian, a Democratic state senator from Palo Alto, introduced a bill that determines when trees can grow amid solar panels, for instance if they are planted ahead of time. But if the trees are planted after the solar panels are installed and create shade problems, they have to go.

(Note to homeowners on either side of the fence: Whoever gets their trees planted or solar panels installed first will be the winner.)

This issue needs strict guidelines in light of California’s Million Solar Roofs Program.

As the article quoted Simitian: “I’m trying to avoid a million neighborhood arguments.”

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(Photo: New York Times)