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Homeowner wins wind turbine legal battle with city of Orono

A Hennepin County judge has ruled state law trumps city ordinance when it comes to an Orono, Minn. homeowner’s fight to keep a wind turbine on his property. Jay Nygard refused to take down the 30-foot wind turbine in his backyard on Lake Minnetonka, even though the city of Orono sued him over a zoning violation.

Since the dispute began more than 3 years ago, Orono has passed an ordinance banning any kind of wind turbine. Nygard argued the ordinance violates a state law regulating wind energy systems.

State law

Minnesota law covers both large and small wind energy conversion systems. A backyard turbine, like the one on Nygard’s property, qualifies as small.

Large turbines: Site permit is required, which “supersedes and preempts all zoning, building, or land use rules, regulations, or ordinances” on the county or local level.

Small turbines: Anyone can build a small wind turbine without complying with the large turbine chapter of the law, but nothing in the state law prevents a local government from establishing requirements for the construction and placement of the small turbine.

Orono ordinance

“Wind energy conversion systems are not an allowed use or structure within any zoning districts in the city.”

Judge’s ruling

The court is forbidding the city of Orono from enforcing its ordinance in Nygard’s case. The judge’s ruling still allows the city to regulate wind turbines within its borders, but “prohibits the complete banning” of all small wind energy conversion systems within the city.

According to the ruling, Nygard agrees the city should be able to regulate the construction of turbines for safety, noise levels, and visual impact.

What’s at stake

Nygard has a financial stake in this ruling. His company, Go Green Energy, sells the small wind turbines, and he hopes this ruling could prevent prospective clients from enduring the same municipal resistance as he did in Orono.

“I am happy to announce that the Hennepin County District Court has chosen to honor Minnesota state law and overturn the city of Orono’s complete ban of wind turbines,” Nygard said in a statement. “This is a big victory for green energy, and my company, Go Green Energy, in its long standing push to bring micro wind turbines to the Minnesota market. I am personally thrilled to see that the district court has affirmed my position of the importance of green energy in our society. I am also pleased to see clearly stated in the order the property rights that I have been denied during my continued litigation with the city of Orono.”