Neighbours hit boiling point as solar panels are put in the shade

Who wins the prize for environmental correctness – the California couple who planted eight redwoods in their Silicon Valley backyard over the past 12 years, or their neighbours, who drive an electric car and boast solar energy-generating panels on their roof?

One thing is certain: the couples will never have a civil conversation with each other again outside of a courtroom. When Mark Vargas installed his 128 solar panels, he realised the shade from the trees was interfering with his ability to heat and light his family home.

So he found an obscure California statute, a 1978 law called the Solar Shade Act, to embolden him to go to his neighbours, Carolynn Bissett and Richard Treanor, and ask them to cut down their trees.

Ms Bissett and Mr Treanor were furious. They turned down Mr Vargas's offer to pay for the tree removal. In fact, they referred the issue to their lawyers.

Unfortunately for them, they lost and the judge ordered three trees cut down, because they obscured more than 10 per cent of Mr Vargas's property.

They now have no money to appeal and have reluctantly called in the tree-choppers. Under the 1978 law, they could also have been fined $1,000 per tree per day of the by-now years-long period of violation.

A local state legislator, Joe Simitian, meanwhile, is promoting a bill intended to take the rancour out of such disputes. The bill, which has been introduced in the state senate, would safeguard trees planted before the installation of solar panels from the shadow of the axeman.

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