Pipeline companies can be excellent passive income producers. They tend to generate steady cash flow backed by long-term contracts and government-regulated rates. That gives them a lot of steady cash flow to pay out in dividends.

All this means that those nearing retirement should consider adding a high-quality pipeline stock to their portfolio. Three of the best for passive income are Kinder Morgan (KMI -0.06%)ONEOK (OKE -1.02%), and Williams Companies (WMB 0.11%).

1. Kinder Morgan: A cash flow machine

Kinder Morgan expects to produce nearly $5 billion in distributable cash flow this year. The company is on track to pay out less than 55% of those funds via its dividend this year. That will enable it to retain enough cash to fund its expansion program with around $900 million to spare, putting the dividend on a rock-solid foundation. The company can use that excess cash to further strengthen its balance sheet, make additional high-return investments, or opportunistically repurchase its stock. 

The company's investments will help it continue growing its cash flow. Kinder Morgan recently approved a new natural gas pipeline expansion project and enhanced its renewable natural gas business. It sees lots of opportunities to grow those businesses in the coming years.

That should enable Kinder Morgan to keep boosting its 6%-yielding dividend. The pipeline giant has increased its payout in each of the last five years. That lucrative, growing dividend makes it an excellent passive income option.

2. ONEOK: An excellent track record

ONEOK has a solid track record of paying dividends. The pipeline company has delivered more than 25 years of dividend stability. It has increased its payout most years, growing it at a 13% compound annual rate since 2000. 

After completing $5 billion of expansion projects in recent years, the company has significant earnings power. As a result, it has a considerable amount of available capacity, positioning it to capitalize on rising volumes in the future. Meanwhile, with the bulk of its expansion projects complete, ONEOK is generating significant free cash flow to support its dividend and strengthen its balance sheet. This gives it the financial flexibility to move forward with additional expansion projects as customers need more capacity. 

Those features put the company's 6.5%-yielding dividend on a firm foundation. With more upside ahead for that payout as volumes rise, ONEOK is an excellent option for those seeking passive income.

3. Williams Companies: Lots of growth ahead

Williams Companies has paid a dividend every quarter since 1974. While it hasn't always maintained or increased its dividend payment in the past, it expects to be able to steadily grow it in the future. The company has taken several steps to improve the durability of its cash flows and balance sheet strength, putting its payout on a much firmer foundation. 

The natural gas pipeline company expects to generate enough cash to cover its payout by more than 2.2 times this year. That's providing it with the excess cash to cover its entire growth capital expenditures plan -- including funding a recent acquisition -- with room to spare. That will enable the company to continue strengthening its already solid balance sheet.

Williams Companies has a large, growing pipeline of expansion projects to fuel future growth. It's currently investing $1.5 billion across six projects to expand its interstate pipeline business. It's also expanding its gathering and processing operations and connecting additional offshore developments in the Gulf of Mexico to its existing infrastructure. These projects should grow its cash flow over the next several years.

Meanwhile, Williams is pursuing another two dozen natural gas pipeline expansion opportunities, representing upwards of $8 billion of investment opportunities through the next decade. With a strong financial profile, Williams should be able to continue growing its operations and 5.3%-yielding dividend for years to come.

Rock-solid income streams that should continue rising

Kinder Morgan, ONEOK, and Williams Companies generate stable income from their vast pipeline networks. That's giving them lots of steady cash flow to pay attractive dividends while investing in expanding their pipeline network. That should provide them with the fuel to grow their dividends in the coming years, making them ideal for those seeking a steadily rising passive income stream as they near retirement.