Solar Installations (copy) (copy)

Solar City employees Udo Ogbuka and Joey Applemann install solar panels on the roof of a home in Tanner Plantation in Hanahan on Friday, March 3, 2017. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

South Carolina residents who want to go green often are attracted to the idea of rooftop solar, not only for possible savings on their electric bills but also for the ability to power their homes with cleaner energy.

But even solar customers with the most environmentally focused motivations might have a hard time making the switch, because solar panels need sunlight, and trees can get in the way.

"There is a little bit of a Catch-22 with the environmental argument of, 'Hey go solar to be sustainable, but we want you to chop down trees,'" said Craig Knowlton, vice president at solar installer Alder Energy. 

In South Carolina, like the rest of the steamy South, trees are more than landscaping that makes a property more attractive. They provide crucial shade during the boiling summer months, making it easier (and less expensive) to cool a home.

Many coastal communities have strict regulations on what trees can be cut down, partly because of their important role in sucking up water after a flood event. Regulating tree removal is also an aesthetic choice to keep cities and towns literally green. 

Trees have symbolic importance, too. Grand live oak trees, often draped with Spanish moss and blanketed in resurrection ferns, are so much a symbol of the region that Johns Island's Angel Oak, estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old, is a public park that attracts visitors from around the region. 

Angel Oak (copy)

Angel Oak

Living on a forested property was so important to Debbie Davis, a Shadowmoss resident, that she declined to put panels on her roof.

"They informed me that I would need to cut down trees and I was like, nevermind," she said. 

Davis, who said she's been an avid gardener since age 2, was looking for a way to save on her power bill, but the trees in her yard were too close to her house. She was also worried that the combination of solar panels and pines could lead to a fire. 

Knowlton said that if installation is done correctly, wiring is tucked under the solar panels, and there's little risk of fire. He also said that a shaded roof isn't necessarily a dealbreaker, as long as the entire surface isn't covered. The company will calculate an estimate of energy savings, and often, the calculation still works out. 

"Shading’s very common, and we try to do a good job ... of taking (it) into consideration when we do our estimates for the homeowner," Knowlton said.

Ultimately, customers are almost always resistant to removing trees completely, Knowlton siad.

"It's a case-by-case basis, and there are plenty of times where you might have shade, but we can run the numbers and solar might be a viable option," he said. 

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Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.

Chloe Johnson covers the coastal environment and climate change for the Post and Courier. She's always looking for a good excuse to hop on a boat.

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