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Face change for American industry -- Enron Wind moves on

Long-time wind executive Ken Karas is no longer with Enron Wind Corp of Tehachapi in California, America's leading manufacturer of utility scale wind turbines and one of the country's two top wind plant developers alongside FPL Energy of Florida. Karas officially left Enron Wind Corp on February 10. The company will not comment on why Karas and Enron Wind -- owned by the electricity giant Enron Corp of Houston -- have parted company.

The parting does not appear to have been amicable, however, or that sudden. For some time Enron Corp has wanted Enron Wind to concentrate on manufacturing wind turbines, in the US and Europe, as well as developing projects, say sources. But Karas, who was originally a banker, wanted to push the development side -- some would say to the detriment of the firm's design and engineering of wind turbines. It was just over three years ago that Enron Corp, with assets in energy and communications of some $34 billion, bought the long-time wind company, which had been called Zond Corp.

Enron Wind's new president is Dave Ramm. Appointed head of Enron Wind Technology Corp in Tehachapi as recently as September, Ramm is described as having a solid background in engineering, management, and leadership. He joined Enron Corp in 1997 to manage the company's international renewable energy subsidiary. A West Point graduate who served in the US Army, he has been credited with turning around the fortunes of Otis Elevator, a sizeable subsidiary of United Technologies Corp.

Enron Corp has appointed Kurt Huneke as chairman of Enron Wind. Huneke has been with Enron Corp for over 20 years. Most recently he was chairman of Enron Renewable Energy Corp, which directly oversees Enron Wind and has overseen Enron Corp's overseas asset operations. Both Ramm and Huneke are said to be "bottom-oriented" businessmen. Enron Wind has most recently installed hundreds of megawatts of turnkey wind projects -- about $500 million in new wind turbines -- in Minnesota and Iowa in 1998 and 1999. It also owns Tacke Windenergie GmbH of Germany.

Problems

Enron Wind's Z-Series of turbines had faced high-profile problems with generator and gearbox design (Windpower Monthly, May 1999 and April 1997), pushing up operations and maintenance costs on installed projects to levels higher than expected by Enron Corp when it bought the wind company in early 1997. Observers describe the basic problem at Enron Wind as "Kenetech redux." Kenetech Windpower, once the world's leading wind firm, compromised its turbine engineering to meet financial goals and had to declare bankruptcy after engineering problems emerged while the company was straining to meet ambitious development goals.

It is said that Enron Wind is likely to stop making the Z-Series in the US and instead make or assemble a version of the 1.5 MW Tacke machine. The Z-series design will then be sent back to Tacke in Europe to be improved, under the guidance of Tacke's boss, Finn Hansen, who knows the machine well from his years at the Tehachapi facility. The Z turbines would then be made at Enron Wind's new plant in Spain (next story).

Karas has been a prominent, if controversial, figure in the wind community. He was an executive with Enron Wind/Zond since a few years after the company was founded in 1980, in the early days of California's wind rush. A former president of the American Wind Energy Association, he is now said to be pursuing other business interests.

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