Solar panels vs. trees

250px-coastredwood.jpgOver at Edenmakers' Shirley has a post about a couple of neighbors who each feel they are environmentalist, yet felt it necessary to head to the courts over their dispute. This is a suburban neighborhood and as such one neighbor wanted to plant a row of Sequoia sempervirens, (Coast Redwood) as a privacy screen. Later the other neighbors installed solar panels on their roof, as well as on a lower trellis. Why head to court? The neighbor with the solar panels sued since the trees had started to block the sunlight reaching the solar panels on the trellis. The bottom line is the neighbors with the trees had to remove a couple of them so light could reach the panels.

When I first read the story I, like Shirley, automatically sided with the tree people. After the automatic “I am for trees” reaction I started to think that maybe those redwood trees we're the wrong choice for a privacy hedge. When you realize that the Coast Redwood can grow up to 100' plus in a residential situation it soon becomes obvious that redwood trees are not the best choice for suburban situations. Yes they grow fast, and are evergreen, but their shear size makes them inappropriate for most suburban situations. Better to have planted trees or tall growing shrubs that max out at a height that provides privacy, but doesn't turn into a giant. These trees can drop all sorts of material over the year and having the trees right next to the fence line means the neighbors might have ended up in court anyway, solar panels or not.

Was this a case of poor research by the home owners? We're these trees recommended by a nursery person who didn't find out what the situation was that these trees would be used in? Redwoods around here are very popular for screening, but we are a mostly rural area. So after siding with the tree people at first, I changed my mind and sided with the solar panel neighbor. Even though the solar panels came after the trees, the neighbors have the right to expect a certain amount of sunshine on their home, and these (eventually) giant trees would have blocked that out. An excellent reason to research the plants you are planting, and finding out their eventual size.

Now fast forward and I head back to Shirley's site and follow the link to the original article. If you look at the picture and read the article, the solar panels in question are mounted on a trellis BELOW the roof, about halfway down the side of the house. Just about anything you plant will shade these panels! Gee, if I put panels on the ground do I still get same expectation of light that a roof mounted system would have?

I think the solution to this problem would have been choosing a more appropriate type of plant for privacy. Something that grows to about 20 feet, but not much taller. Certainly not something that will grow up to a hundred feet tall, and not right on the property line. Even though the panels on the trellis are mounted really low the trees would have eventually, depending on the angle of sun, likely shaded the roof mounted ones anyway.

This could have been prevented by doing a little more research on the type of privacy screen plants available, or talking to an experienced nurseryperson or designer.