Judge unexpectedly decides against jailing Jay Nygard for controversial wind turbine

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The turbine at right threatened to land Jay Nygard in jail

Jay Nygard still refuses to take down the wind turbines that his Orono neighbors hate so much, and because of that, he and his wife were prepared to head to jail at the end of a hearing in a Minneapolis courtroom today.

But because Hennepin County District Court Judge Susan Robiner changed her mind, they won't have to after all.

Backstory -- Homeowner wins wind turbine legal battle with city of Orono

"This was an act of civil disobedience," Nygard's lawyer, Erick Kaardal, says. "This is a noble effort on behalf of green energy and criminalizing these noble efforts doesn't make sense."

In a press release, Kaardal goes further, characterizing the Nygards' civil disobedience as "in line [with] the American traditions of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King."

Though the Nygards won a legal battle last fall when a judge ruled a state law allowing people to have turbines on their property trumped city ordinances prohibiting them, the Nygards still faced jail time thanks to a nuisance complaint filed by neighbors who argued a 30-foot turbine in the Nygards' yard is a source of light and noise pollution.

Earlier this year, Judge Robiner gave the Nygards until today to take down that turbine or spend 60 days in the slammer. They refused to comply.

But in court today, the Nygards testified about how they've attempted to compromise.

"The Nygards [said] they had locked down the wind turbine rendering it inoperable and would provide a key to a third party so that they could not just start it up again," the aforementioned release says. "The Nygards also argued with the wind turbine shut down their was no nuisance for the neighbors to complain about: no noise, no light reflection. In response, the attorney for the neighbors said that was not enough and insisted that six months incarceration was necessary."

But Judge Robiner disagreed, and merely ordered the Nygards to secure the turbine with a lock and turn the lock's key into the court within two weeks.

Next month, the Nygards' fight with their neighbors will be taken up by an appeals court. Kaardal says he's confident he and the Nygards will ultimately prevail, but in any event, today's ruling is a victory.

"Litigants take on these big public policy questions, but why should they be incarcerated for their views while it works through the courts?" Kaardal says.

Asked if the Nygards entered court today expecting to go to jail, Kaardal says they did.

"Absolutely, they had prepared files of information for the electronic home monitoring work release, and spent the week preparing applications on the idea [they'd be jailed]," Kaardal says. "We didn't know [the judge had changed her mind] until the very end of the hearing. There were hugs all around when we found out they weren't going to jail."

Reached for comment this afternoon, Jay says he and his wife are "quite elated" by the judge's ruling.

"We're somewhat surprised, because we were convinced we were headed to jail," Nygard adds. "There's definitely a bunch of relief. The more we think about it the more elated we are."

Asked what he plans to do with all the time he won't be in jail, Nygard, owner of Go Green Energy -- a company that sells small winds turbines -- laughs and says, "I'm trying to figure that out," though he adds he has more than enough green energy projects to keep him busy when he isn't working on his seemingly never ending turbine case.