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Gerry Alderson's Back, and Wit Capital's Robert Lessin Is at His Side

This is one company where it's not enough to read the fine print.

You wouldn't know by reading the recent registration statement by

Wattage Monitor


that Wattage prez Gerry Alderson played a role in nearly burying another company. Why bother talking about this OTC bulletin board stock when, as mentioned

Monday, this column usually avoids such discussions?

Because it's connected to a high-profile person in the online scene right now. And companies like Wattage Monitor, that have the right kind of connections and the right kind of story, have a way of making the right kind of leap to the



If that happens to Reno-based Wattage Monitor, here's what you need to know:

In the current age of utility deregulation, consumers will have a tough time choosing which power company to use. Wattage Monitor's solution is an online analysis on its Web

site. Simply write in your zip code and Wattage Monitor's software spits out your options. (Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. We tried two zip codes, east and west, and were instructed to try back later when data is updated.)

It's a concept -- er, story -- only Wall Street could love, especially when you realize that not even Alderson,

Robert Lessin

and another partner were convinced their idea was worthwhile when they started the company two years ago. "In 1997, we focused on determining whether or not our business could succeed," the company wrote in the registration statement.

Lessin brings the company credibility: Not only is he chairman and co-chief executive of

Wit Capital

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, but he's also an accomplished investment banker and venture capitalist whose resume includes a stint as vice chairman of

Salomon Smith Barney


Alderson, who is president and running Wattage Monitor, is another story; that he is even running a public company again, with no detailed mention of his professional history, is astounding.

For example, Wattage Monitor's registration statement says that none of its executives or directors has been a party to a bankruptcy during the past five years. Okay, but Alderson played a role in the downfall of



, which he ran as CEO prior to 1996.

Kenetech made energy-producing wind turbines, like the windmills that dot the hills east of San Francisco. It was a better idea on paper than in practice, however. While plenty of the turbines were sold, they were loaded with quality problems (they kept breaking) and the cost of natural gas fell so low that it undercut the cost of wind energy.

Kenetech shares climbed to as high as 28 1/4 in March 1994. In 1995, after the company hit turbulence, Alderson was ousted. A year later the company's primary subsidiary, the one that made the windmills, filed for bankruptcy. Kenetech's troubles, according to those who were there, were tied to Alderson's mercurial management style. At the time, one analyst was quoted by the

San Francisco Chronicle

as saying that Alderson's regime was crimped by "circumstances beyond his control," but that he could be faulted for formulating overly ambitious expansion plans and for underestimating manufacturing difficulties.

Well, at least this time he won't have to worry about manufacturing.

Alderson couldn't be reached. Neither could Lessin, who showed strong admiration for Alderson in a book he wrote and gave to clients.

As for Kenetech: Its stock now trades for just 16 cents, far below the 8 3/8 of Wattage. All it has left is $67 million in net cash. CEO Mark Lerdal says the company has pretty much abolished most of its litigation and obligations. At most, he says, $10 million is at risk, related to ongoing litigation with its preferred stock holders.

What'll the company do with the rest? Lerdal's not quite sure, but he's working on it.

Herb Greenberg writes daily for In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, though he owns stock in He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at Greenberg writes a monthly column for Fortune and provides commentary for CNBC.