Jay Nygard got the bright idea for a homemade wind turbine in 2010, and set about collecting, in his own words, only the finest parts -- "I didn't buy a piece of shit propeller."
Maybe so. But the whole thing stunk to Orono city officials. They tried to stop construction and took him to court in 2011. Since then, he's built three more machines in his Lake Minnetonka backyard.
"Every time they tell me to do something, it pisses me off," Nygard says.
Count 'em: That's four years of being pissed off, three years of lawsuits and counter lawsuits between Nygard and his hometown representatives -- a feud that nearly sent the man to jail. (An appeals court intervened.)
Finally, a Hennepin County judge is about to make some sense out of this. The court heard arguments Monday about whether Minnesota law allows citizens to construct their own turbines or whether cities can -- in the case of Orono -- ban the technology.
It'll be an important verdict one way or the other, setting a precedent for future Nygards who want to go off the traditional utility grid against the wishes of their neighbors.
Erick Kaardahl's position is simple: He argues that Nygard, his client, is protected by state law and points to the plain language of the statute saying any person may construct a wind/solar energy system for their own use. Orono maintains the right to regulate such things as noise and height and light, but cannot prevent you from building it.
Of course, George Hoff disagrees. He argued on behalf of the city in court, suggesting that its powers of zoning and policing were broad enough to supersede state law in this case. Minnesota legislators could have inserted language into the bill stopping a city like Orono from interfering in the personalized turbine game, but they didn't.
We know Nygard is also being sued by some of his neighbors, but the question of why the city dislikes the turbines in the first place isn't entirely clear. Another city attorney recently told the Strib that the lawsuit has nothing to do with the merits of clean energy. It has to do with a 750-pound machine on a 30-foot pole -- i.e. public safety.
We went looking for a solid explanation outside the courtroom. What we found was a rickety merry-go-round with chipped paint: Hoff referred us to the mayor and the mayor referred us to Hoff.
Dizzy, we paused for a moment and found Nygard lingering in the lobby. He explained that, as a mechanical engineer, he would like to sell his turbines to like-minded people throughout the states. Indeed, his company, Go Green Energy, is listed as a plaintiff in the relevant lawsuit. "As much as Orono tries to derail this, they can't," Nygard says.
Judge Philip Bush told the court that he would consider both sides and render a verdict when he's ready.