Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dispositions Are Not So Sunny In Sunnyvale

Paul Rogers writes in today's Mercury News about a dust-up in Sunnyvale that is almost comical.

It seems a guy who is a committed environmentalist (he has an electric car to prove it) installed a 10kw solar array on his roof in 2001. Rogers describes the system as "so big that he pays only $60 a year for electricity." Alternative energy success story, right? WRONG!! (as John McLaughlin likes to say!)

This guy's neighbors are also committed environmentalists (their car is a hybrid and not full-on electric, but it still counts). In the late 90's they planted eight redwood trees along their fenceline. As you know, redwoods tend to get pretty big and now the trees are casting a shadow over the aforementioned solar array.

The aggrieved neighbor did what any environmentalist would do-- he demanded that the redwoods be cut down! (Ironic, I know.) The tree owners balked, mediation ensued and failed, and now they find themselves on the wrong end of criminal charges brought by the Santa Clara DA's office!

The charge? They are in violation of California's "Solar Shade Control Act." This obscure law dates back to the 1970's when Jerry Brown signed it in order to promote solar energy during the energy crisis. It "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," according to the Merc.
The tree-owners have spent $25k in legal fees and are looking at possible fines of $1,000/day for non-compliance.

I hate to take sides here (really, I do...) but let's step back a minute. The trees were planted in the late 90's and the solar array was installed in 2001. Mr. Solar Panel had to know that they were there and, being something of an environmentalist, it is reasonable to assume that he knew--or should have known-- that the redwoods would only grow taller. Wouldn't it have been prudent to resolve this disupute before he spent the money to install the solar array?

Furthermore, according to Rogers, this guy only pays $60 a year in electricity--five bucks a month. Wouldn't that indicate that the solar panels are working, despite the shadow cast by the trees?

Just another example of the unintended consequences of alternative energy-- wind turbines cause bird strikes, hydroelectric facilities endanger fish, ethanol drives up the price of corn, and now this. At some point, we are going to have make some choices. You can't have your cake and eat it too.