Going Green Makes Neighbors See Red

Mark Vargas was trying to his part for the planet when he installed 128 solar panels on his roof - at a cost of $70,000.

"Solar power is very important, not only to me, but to the environment," Vargas said.

Unfortunately for him, nature got in his way, CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports.

"The trees are beautiful," said Vargas' neighbor, Richard Treanor. "Those solar panels are not."

Treanor lives across the fence. He's all for the environment - and even drives a hybrid car. Ten years ago he planted several redwoods to provide a little privacy.

Now they have his neighbor seeing red.

"He called us over the fence one day and said, 'I am going to be installing solar panels and therefore you have to take your trees down,'" Treanor said.

The problem was that the trees would block the sun, reducing power to the panels. So the neighbors went to court.

"It was an all-out assault on all of our trees," Treanor said.

As it turns out, the law was on the side of the sun.

The California solar shade act requires homeowners to keep their trees from shading more than 10 percent of their neighbors' solar panels between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The experts determined that 15 percent of the solar panels were being blocked by the neighbors' trees. That meant the trees were in violation and the neighbors that own them … were criminals.

"We were convicted of one count of violation of the California Solar Shade Act," Treanor said.

By court order, Treanor had to give on of his offending trees a shave. With solar panels are now big business in California, legal experts say fights over them are just getting started.

"As solar panels become more cost-effective, you are going to see more and more disputes between homeowners of this nature," said Buzz Williams of Stanford University. "Hopefully what you won't see are disputes in criminal courts."

"Reasonable people who both care for the environment should be able to find a resolution here," Vargas said.

But that would require an inconvenient truce.
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  • Ben Tracy

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