A Minnesota green energy entrepreneur has been in jail since Friday all because of a wind turbine that once stood on his property.
Jay Nygard, founder of Go Green Energy, built the 29-foot-high turbine, which has been likened to a giant eggbeater, on his Orono, Minn., property in 2010 despite being denied a permit. Nygard and his lawyer, who argue that having a 1.5-kilowatt turbine is a right -- rather than a fixture subject to zoning laws -- spent a year fighting to keep it in place.
“My husband is a libertarian, and he has very strong views about Americans' rights to things," Nygard's wife, Kendall, said. "And if you're a property owner, you have some rights. When he sees things that are being violated, he's not afraid to take them head on."
"How would you like to open your bedroom window every morning and have a big wind turbine block your view of your lake and the enjoyment of your home and have a strobe-like effect into your home?"
- Rob Tennant, attorney for Nygards' neighbors
Nygard's company makes solar panels, hot water systems and attic fans, as well as turbines that mount on roofs or stand freely, like the one he built on his one-third-acre property.
"Jay Nygard of Go Green Energy is known throughout the local metro area as a forebearer of the energy sustainability movement," touts the company website.
But officials in Orono, where Nygard once served as a city councilman, said the turbine violated zoning codes and made his neighbors’ life miserable.
“The thing was 2 feet from his neighbor's property line and 20-some feet tall,” Soren Mattick, the lawyer for the city of Orono, told FoxNews.com. “I wish there were a way for you to see the almost disco-ball-like effect into the neighbor’s front yard when this thing spun.”
The neighbors, like the city, have spent years battling the Nygards in court over the towering turbine, which Rob Tennant, who represents two sets of the Nygards' neighbors, Pat and Nancy Walsh and Penny Rogers and Peter Lanpher, said no one should have to live next door to such a machine.
"How would you like to open your bedroom window every morning and have a big wind turbine block your view of your lake and the enjoyment of your home and have a strobe-like effect into your home?" Tennant told FoxNews.com.
When a judge finally ordered him to take the turbine down, Nygard, reluctantly complied -- or at least thought he did. The turbine was taken down, but city officials said the anchor bolts and even the 4-by-4 foot cement pad it stood on also had to go. Nygard balked, worried that removing the thick pad, adjacent to his home's foundation, would destabilize the house. He refused, and was hauled to the lockup Friday.
“He was arrested, handcuffed, and taken to jail,” Kendall Nygard said Monday. “Tonight will be night No. 4 in jail.”
Nygard was sentenced to six months for not complying with a previous court order to remove the base. Over the weekend, his family finished the court-ordered job, hoping to spring their patriarch. Even though they took it down, the family insists there was nothing wrong with putting the towering, 750-pound turbine, which was fixed atop a galvanized pole, so close to the neighbors' home.
“That was the best place to harvest the wind on our property," Kendall Nygard said. "We don't have a very big property. I don't know where else we could have put it.”
The Nygards had built the turbine despite having been denied a permit, arguing that the wind turbine was similar to light poles or basketball hoops other city erect without needing city clearance. But when the city demanded it come down, answering the Nygards' refusal with a lawsuit, it also passed a new rule banning wind turbines within city limits. Although the Nygards lost on the zoning case, they did succeed in getting the city’s ban struck down for violating a state law that gives Minnesotans a right to harvest wind energy. The Nygards still have three smaller wind turbines on their property, which they believe they will be able to keep.
Kendall Nygard said jailing her husband was extreme. Mattick said that was a judge's decision.
“Jail isn't what the city asked for,” Mattick said. “The city asked for a court order directing him to take it down. And that's what the city got… What the court said here was: ‘You're not doing what I told you to do.’”
Mattick added that the Nygards have a history of being bad neighbors, noting the family sued one neighbor for speaking out about the wind generator at a public hearing. The Nygards' attorney took issue with Mattick's claims, noting that city lawyers asked for the court to impose a six-month sentence and disputing the claim that they are bad neighbors.
Kendall Nygard said that lawsuit Mattick cited was filed because her husband felt slandered, and vowed to continue fighting the city.
“I would do it again. And it's not over -- we’re not done yet. We might have lost this particular battle, but the war's not over. And this is a war when you're putting people in jail,” she said.
“If not my husband and I, who would step forward on behalf of our children and our grandchildren … so they all know they have this right?”
The author, Maxim Lott, can be reached on twitter at @MaximLott