Your neighbor’s trees vs. your solar panels (or vice versa)

Redwoods_2Here’s a dilemma that pits tree hugger against tree hugger:

What happens when one home’s trees block another home’s solar panels?

This problem is not new, but with increased interest in rooftop solar panels, the consequences are more than aesthetics or sunny days versus shady days. Now we’re talking about a homeowner’s ability to generate electricity or heat water.

This conflict has played out in the courts in Sunnyvale, Calif., according to an Associated Press article, where one homeowner asked prosecutors to file charges because his neighbor’s towering redwoods blocked sunlight to his solar panels. Naturally, the tree people resisted.

But after more than six years of legal wrangling, the article noted, a judge recently ordered the neighbors to cut down two of their eight redwoods, citing a state law that protects a homeowner’s right to sunlight.

The Solar Shade Control Act was put into place some 30 years ago, when fewer homeowners had solar systems. (Remember Jimmy Carter’s heyday of solar hope?)

That law says that homeowners must keep their trees or shrubs from shading more than 10% of a neighbor’s solar panels during the times of the day when the sun is strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sun-blocking trees already in place when the panels are installed are exempt, but new growth is subject to the law.

What do you think? Is this a good law?

Listen to a podcast of the story on public radio station KQED.


8 Comments on Your neighbor’s trees vs. your solar panels (or vice versa)

  1. Tekla Perry

    Just looking at global warming, the solar panels win, see the calculations at

  2. Scott

    quote: “Planting redwoods in the suburbs of Sunnyvale is ridiculous .”
    Who gets to decide what trees can be planted? Who decides what’s “riduculous”?
    quote: “Gosh…when did it become un-American to be considerate of one’s neighbors?”
    Who’s not being considerate? The one that’s demanding his neighbor cut down his tree or the neighbor that wants to keep his tree?

  3. Ginger K.

    Gosh, Charlie on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, when did it become un-American to be considerate of one’s neighbors? Who’s filling your head with these anti-social ideas?

  4. Brent

    I neglected to correctly give the link that I meant to earlier.
    I don’t think the case is so clear in favor of the trees, at least under existing law.

  5. Charlie On the Pennsylvania Turnpike

    This is insane. While I appreciate ‘quality of life’ laws that prohibit, say, a neighbor from dumping raw sewage in their back yard, this is simply another personal property right being stripped away.
    It’s a tree, people! While I realize it’s a renewable crop, it’s on HIS property, and he’s entitled to it. Just because it casts a shadow is not HIS fault.
    We have less to fear about Visigoths coming over the wall to destroy our nation; we’re doing a fine job destroying ourselves!

  6. lil_gaucha

    The AP story from yesterday says the redwoods were planted first — so legally that means the trees can stay put.
    I’m all for trees, but you don’t have a right to block out all sun from your neighbor’s yard. Planting redwoods in the suburbs of Sunnyvale is ridiculous. A better neighbor would have planted something appropriate to the climate and well being of everyone.

  7. Brian

    If what you say in the last sentence is a correct analysis of the law (“Sun-blocking trees already in place when the panels are installed are exempt, but new growth is subject to the law.”) then an appeal should be filed.
    Very few Redwood trees would grow fast enough to shade a solar panel on the roof of even a one story house, in even 30 years. The odds of these being “preexisting trees” seems pretty high.

  8. Brent

    There’s some discussion of this here
    …”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.”…