A Lake Minnetonka resident is suing the city of Orono over a ban on wind turbines, hoping to set a precedent for wind energy in other cities.
Jay Nygard filed the lawsuit Thursday, the latest step in his more than three-year dispute with the west metro suburb. He argues that it’s his right to have the 29-foot-tall wind turbine in his back yard and that the city’s ordinance prohibiting it oversteps state law.
“It’s about my property rights,” he said. “And I want to prevent other people from having to go through what I’ve had to.”
Cities are increasingly regulating renewable energy projects. Orono moved to do so last December when all wind energy conversion systems were prohibited in the city.
“This battle in Orono is going to have a state impact on how cities manage microwind,” Nygard’s attorney, Erick Kaardal said. “I think it’s a right, and it’s a property right. … It would be like a city that bans recycling. It’s a green, anti-green battle.”
Orono city officials declined to comment Thursday because they hadn’t received the complaint, but attorney Soren Mattick told the Star Tribune last year that Nygard’s case wasn’t about the merits of alternative energy. Instead, he said then that Nygard’s small residential lot wasn’t suitable for wind machines.
The city has contended that the wind generator violated city ordinances and put Nygard’s neighbors and properties in the small neighborhood at risk. His property, less than a third of an acre, is on the West Arm of Lake Minnetonka. The 750-pound turbine is mounted on a galvanized pole less than 5 feet from a neighbor’s property.
In 2010, the city denied his building permit application, then sued Nygard when he built the wind generator. The case made its way through district court to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which ruled in Nygard’s favor but returned the case to the lower court for further consideration. Last year, a judge ruled in the city’s favor and said Nygard’s generator endangered public safety. His appeal was dismissed.
Then, in December, the city changed its ordinance to prohibit wind energy conversion systems within any of its zoning districts. Now, Nygard wants it overturned, citing a state law that says local government can establish requirements for constructing small wind energy conversion systems less than 5,000 kilowatts — like his wind turbine — but, he said, not ban them outright.
Also listed as plaintiffs are his company, his wife and the association, Micro Wind Advisory Council, that he and a business partner started.
Whatever the result of the suit, it could affect not just his 1.5-kilowatt turbine, which he was court ordered to remove by next week, but also a smaller 300-watt turbine he added to his house to lower his electricity bill and power his sump and well pumps.
Also at stake: his business. The mechanical engineer’s wind energy company has sold turbines in St. Paul and other cities, but can’t in Orono.
“If Orono doesn’t like the law, they can go change it,” Kaardal said. “Orono and people who think like Orono are threatening our renewable energy culture and turning the tide back.”