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Solar energy trumps shade in California prosecution of tree owner

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A judge convicted the tree owners on Dec. 10 and ordered two of the eight trees cut down.

The redwoods were planted between 1997 and 1999. The solar panels were installed in 2001 by Vargas, who moved here in 1993.

Photos from 2001 show that two of the trees didn't shade the panels for the first year after installation, but have since grown to shade more than 10 percent of the collectors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

So, says Treanor who has hired an arborist to do the job, "at 9 a.m. on March 26, Mr. Perez will be here to whack our trees."

The case has gained national traction. CNN visited both households, and Vargas just turned down Jon Stewart of the Daily Show.

The fascination is predictable. It sounds like an epic struggle of values: trees versus solar; Vargas, who drives an electric car versus. Treanor and Bissett, who own a Prius. Chat rooms bristle with invective defending the trees' right to exist, and naysayers ridicule the case as a parable of green hypocrisy.

"People are very, very emotional about their trees," explains Randall Stamen, a Riverside, Calif., lawyer who specializes in tree lawsuits. "If you've planted a tree and watched it grow, you've invested an awful lot in it."

But despite the emotions the case has sparked, it fits poorly with the moral story line into which it has been shoehorned.

The now-famous electric car sits outside the Vargases's garage, sipping sunlight from the house's 128 solar panels.

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