10 Innovators to Watch in 1999
distribution properties there," Earley says.
All this activity doesn't include what's happening at home, where the Michigan Public Service Commission has issued a series of orders allowing customers to choose electric suppliers by 2002, with some customers beginning to choose this year. The PSC also has decided DTE can recover $2.4 billion in stranded investment, a number the utility is comfortable with, but wants to see locked in place with legislation.
Knowing Earley's determination to see his company's market position improved, shareholders may soon be applauding his legislative achievements.
Ken Karas, chairman and CEO, Enron Wind Corp.
"Why am I doing this?
That thought galloped through the mind of Ken Kras, then president of Zond Corp., in November 1986. "This" was running a wind turbine development business that, frankly, was sucking wind.
A special California energy tax credit for renewables, driven by the tax shelter market, had expired in 1985. Zond laid off about 300 employees. Creditors piled up at the door, seeking repayment of $10 million. Zond owed its banks $17 million. There was no money left to finish a project. And an IPO attempt collapsed.
Karas still remembers the advice of his company's attorney: File for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But he didn't file. And he didn't give up hope.
Today, Zond is now Enron Wind Corp. of Tehachapi, Calif., having been bought in January 1997 by one of the world's largest energy businesses. At the end of 1998, EWC should be the third largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world. It will have completed the largest wind project ever, a 107-megawatt Minnesota wind farm.
Revenues will have grown from $50 million in 1997 to $300 million this year. The 600-employee company will have made 500 wind turbines in 1998, five times more than last year. It will have installed about 400 MW of plant.
"We're still here today and we're successful," says Karas from a hotel room phone in Tokyo, on the start of a business jaunt that will take him to China, Denmark, Germany, Greece and Spain. "We've created more than just a business. We've created an industry."
The company was incorporated in 1980 not as a manufacturer, but as a wind plant developer. In 1982, Karas was hired as chief financial officer, later becoming president and CEO. From the beginning, Karas understood the importance of economies to the future of wind power. His financial perspective proved pivotal.
"I had the tendency to keep my eye on the wind power ball rather than going off in different directions," he says. He says Zond, and now EWC, did a good job of envisioning the technology and reducing costs. That was key, and still is, to getting wind technology to stand on its own without subsidies, and without consumer support, the CEO says.
"We can't just be dependent on society's environmental largesse. That's great and I think it's even appropriate, but I think what we really need to do is drive down the cost of [wind] energy ¼ At the end of the day as a businessman, that's the most secure