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Energy Innovators: Ringing in an Age of Enlightenment

Fortnightly Magazine - December 1999

Six executives map out the technology, tools, theories and institutions that could change the face of electricity forever.

Liberty is the most important component of enlightenment. Once a person frees themselves ¼ they will not only be on their way to becoming a free thinker themselves, but they will also spread the word to others about the value of attaining enlightenment."

Though Immanuel Kant was writing in 1784 to define his own age of enlightenment, he just as well may have been describing the early results of electric deregulation and the liberty it is giving energy executives to enlighten the industry with new innovations.

Five years ago, the technologies, companies, markets and institutions being developed by the innovators profiled here did not exist and would not have existed had it not been for their determination and enlightened vision of the future of electric competition.

Many historians believe the ideas of the Enlightenment provoked both the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Will the innovators profiled here be the architects of a revolution yet unseen in the electric industry?

The Fortnightly spoke to some of the most innovative people we have come across in the areas of business, technology and policy. - R.S.

Kinder and Morgan - The New Empire Builders

Two former Enron executives begin building a corporate empire that may soon rival that of their former employer.

The founders of Kinder Morgan may never have built the sixth-largest integrated natural gas company in less than five years if Ken Lay, chairman and chief executive officer at Enron, had decided to retire early.

Richard Kinder, chairman and chief executive officer of Kinder Morgan, was president at Enron less than five short years ago, and stood in line to become the top executive. Kinder had risen through the corporate ranks with Lay and was instrumental in building Enron Capital & Trade, the merchant arm of Enron.

But Lay, who had been friends with Kinder since they attended the University of Missouri together, decided to extend his tenure at Enron. At that point, Kinder decided it was time to leave.

"I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I never knew I was going to be running a pipeline company. At the point I resigned [from Enron], I was just thinking about going skiing," Kinder says.

But William Morgan, vice chairman and president at Kinder Morgan and also a friend from Kinder's University of Missouri days, offered Kinder a chance to preside over a new kind of company.

They would build their company around a rarely used corporate structure called a master limited partnership, usually used for sleepy, low-earning assets, but which Kinder and Morgan have revolutionized to turn a $300 million company into a $10 billion company with the recent merger of KN Energy.

But beyond the MLP, Kinder and Morgan have designed a company that does not reward its executives unless its shareholders are rewarded.

They recall wanting to create a company from scratch that had none of the negative attributes they had known in their decades of working at large