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Treehuggers lose legal fight to solar-powered neighbour

Environ-mental Prius pair battle plugdrive sun-chum

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Wrangling Californian neighbours have recently concluded a bitter six-year legal battle, as a judge ordered a treehugging couple's lovingly-tended redwoods cut down in order to prevent them shading solar panels installed by the man next door.

Prius driver Richard Treanor, owner of the proscribed foliage, said the decision wasn't ecologically sound. The lost redwoods, he argued, had been a carbon sink, a wildlife habitat and had served to cool the air around them. He and his wife Carolyn Bissett weren't against solar power, he said, "but we think there's a rational way to implement it."

His neighbour Mark Vargas, whose $70,000 solar panels now operate at full efficiency, said that the tree-loving duo had been selfishly snaffling his sunlight.

"I think it's unfair that a neighbor can take away this source of energy from another neighbor," he told AP. Vargas added that it would take acres of trees to match his rooftop and back-garden solar panels in terms of carbon reductions. He also considered that he had out-greened Treanor and Bissett's low-emissions Prius hybrid, having purchased a plug-in electric car.

After years of legal scuffling, a California judge ruled that Treanor and Bissett had violated the state's Solar Shade Control Act, which says residents have to keep their plants from shading more than ten per cent of a neighbour's solar panels between the hours of 10am and 2pm. The couple are the first to be convicted under the 30-year-old law.

Trees already in place when solar panels are set up don't have to be cut down, but new growth causing shading is unlawful once the panels are in place. It seems that two of Treanor and Bissett's redwoods grew in an illegal fashion and had to be chopped down.

Treanor said the law was unfair, as his trees had been planted before Vargas installed his panels. He said the Act meant that a person could "suddenly become a criminal the day a tree grows big enough to shade a solar panel".

Legal experts predicted that such disputes would become more frequent, driven by large state subsidies for home solar-power kit. Such environ-mental* disputes might soon be an everyday Californian event.

Read the AP report here. ®

*Hyphen on purpose

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