CHARLOTTE, N.C., Oct. 21, 2003 — George T. Lewis, Jr., founder and Chairman-Emeritus of Cogentrix Energy, Inc. died Oct. 17 at his home after an extended illness.
Lewis built Cogentrix from an idea into an independent private electric power producer with more than $640 million in annual revenues and ownership interests in 27 facilities in fourteen states and the Dominican Republic. He retired as Chief Executive Officer in August 1995.
In the early 1980s, Lewis revived a decades-old process of cogeneration that largely had fallen into disuse. He foresaw that changes in federal regulatory law made it feasible for a comeback of cogeneration, the process of producing two forms of energy from one fuel source.
At age 55, Lewis left his Boston based position as senior vice president of the national engineering firm of Chas. T. Main, now a part of the Parsons group of companies, to pursue his idea. He returned to Charlotte, where he had once been in charge of the firm’s southern division, and staked his future on his idea. In 1983, Lewis combined vision and modern engineering technology in founding Cogentrix.
Lewis, a mechanical engineer and attorney, envisioned Cogentrix as a developer, designer, builder, owner and operator of standardized power plants that would produce electricity for utilities and steam for local industry. By standardizing, the plants could be built more quickly and efficiently than larger conventional power plants historically built by the electric utility industry. Lewis sought to pass on the potential savings in construction costs and operating expenses to Cogentrix’s industrial and utility customers.
Because of the recognition and acceptance of Lewis’ concept of standardized cogeneration plants, Cogentrix achieved record growth. In 1989 and 1990 the company topped INC. magazine’s list of the nation’s fastest growing privately held companies, an unprecedented two consecutive year accomplishment.
The Cogeneration Institute chose Lewis “Cogeneration Professional of the Year” for 1988. He was selected in 1990 as “Entrepreneur of the Year” by INC. magazine. The same year Independent Energy magazine selected Lewis as “Executive of the Year.” For the company’s performance and its founder’s accomplishments, the American Boiler Manufacturers Association honored Lewis with its 1992 “Public Service Award for Energy and Environmental Achievement.”
Lewis has served on the board of directors of the Mercy Hospital Foundation, Charlotte Latin School and Discovery Place. His desire to see students pursue an education in Science and Engineering led to Cogentrix’s significant support of Discovery Place. He was also responsible for Cogentrix becoming a major sponsor of the local Communities-In-Schools program, with particular support of the former Wesley Uptown Alternative High School, now at Midwood High School.
In recognition of Lewis’s long standing support, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system named the campus housing the Midwood High School and TAPS programs on Central Avenue the George T. Lewis Academic Center. A commitment by Lewis to provide college education scholarship funding support to every graduate of the George T. Lewis Academic Center continues today and formed the basis of the broader Communities-In-Schools “Think College” program. In 1996 Communities-In-Schools presented Lewis with its inaugural “Dreammaker Award” for his vision and support of the Communities-In-Schools ideals.
A 1949 graduate of Syracuse University, Lewis started his business career with Consolidated Edison in New York and worked with the engineering firm of Burns and Roe before joining Chas. T. Main for an 18-year stint. While with Consolidated Edison, Lewis earned a law degree from New York Law School.
Lewis is survived by his wife, Betty; two sons, David J. Lewis and James E. Lewis; and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by one son, Robert W. Lewis.