Appeals Court allows home wind turbine in Orono

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 22, 2012 - 8:39 PM

Judges reject Orono's argument that homeowner's structure was not allowed under city ordinance.

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Jay Nygard, who was ordered to disassemble his home wind turbine in March, said he will rebuild it after all court appeals are exhausted. Monday’s ruling was “a big victory for property rights,” he said.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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A wind turbine that looks like a gargantuan upside-down egg beater may soon be back in business near Lake Minnetonka. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the city of Orono was wrong to deny a permit for the turbine, which city resident Jay Nygard had built on his property.

Nygard called the decision "a big victory for property rights" and said he plans to rebuild the turbine once the case is past any chance of appeal.

"This has to do with small people being able to do what they need to with their property, and cities helping them accomplish their goals as opposed to being detrimental to their goals," he said.

The dispute began two years ago when Nygard applied for a city permit to build the wind machine in his yard on a spit of land that juts into Lake Minnetonka.

Unlike the mammoth wind machines with immense rotor blades seen in commercial use in rural areas of Minnesota, Nygard's turbine is a vertical-axis wind machine about 20 feet high, with its moving parts mounted about eight feet off the ground.

Orono officials denied permission for the home turbine on the grounds that wind machines were not allowed under its residential zoning ordinance.

Nygard erected the turbine anyway, only to be served with a lawsuit saying that it violated the city's rules on residential property lines and structural setbacks.

Nygard, a mechanical engineer who markets the machines for a Taiwanese manufacturer, said the turbines are quiet and efficient, even though some of his neighbors complained about how the machine looked.

The district court ruled against Nygard in March and ordered him to dismantle the turbine and mounting shaft, but not its concrete footing.

The crux of the matter before the Court of Appeals was whether Orono's zoning ordinance allows turbines on residential property.

The city argued that because the ordinance does not specifically mention wind turbines as "a lawful accessory," they are not allowed.

But the Court of Appeals said that the city's reasoning was "erroneous" because Orono allows other structures that are not mentioned in the ordinance, including flagpoles, basketball hoops and clotheslines.

The city has 20 days to decide whether to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Melanie Curtis, Orono's planning and zoning coordinator, said she had read the court's ruling but had no immediate comment on it until she has conferred with city leaders.

Many cities do not have ordinances about small wind projects, but they are increasingly common, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The national advocacy group estimated last year that about 100 small wind turbines had been erected in Minnesota using funding assistance from local, state or federal sources, and that only 11 states had more.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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