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Princeton Company Bets on Electric Car to Help Jump Start Green Economy

If gas goes to $4.00 a gallon at the pump, Americans may quickly change their opinion of electric vehicles.

NRG Energy Inc. is betting big on transforming itself into a green company, and events in the Middle East and elsewhere could help it achieve its goal, according to its chief executive.

David Crane, the president and CEO of the Princeton-based energy company, gave the keynote address yesterday at the Jefferies 11th Global Clean Technology Conference in New York, outlining his vision of how the nation can convert to a clean energy economy with the plug-in electric vehicle playing a crucial role.

NRG, which is rolling out the infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles in Houston and its surrounding county, also has moved into selling green power to consumers through Green Mountain Energy and has made big investments in both wind and solar power. The company, which owns a diversified fleet of conventional coal-fired and gas-fired power plants, also is seeking to build new nuclear generating units in Texas.

In his 46-minute talk to analysts and others at the New York Palace Hotel, Crane said the turmoil in the Middle East is likely to get worse before it lessens, a situation that could spike gasoline prices and force Washington to look for ways to ease consumers' pain. He also said the Obama administration’s embrace of a clean energy standard -- one that links wind, solar and nuclear -- is a huge policy step forward, one that should be supported by the renewable energy sector.

The natural connection with that strategy, Crane said, is the electric vehicle. He added that the industry needs to do a better job educating the American public and changing its perception of the technology.

"We need to focus on the American consumer," Crane said. "Definitely, the psychology of the American public is they don’t want things forced on them by the American government, but they are sensitive to what’s going on, including the price of energy."

That consciousness is being raised by current events, including the possibility that consumers may be paying $4.00 per gallon at the pump when the summer driving season begins. "All of these things are increasing the consciousness of the American public, which is usually switched off."

The electric vehicle is a "game changer," Crane said, because it is the single biggest consumer purchase. It is where the average American understands how much energy they use and what they pay for it, he noted.

"For most people, to get beyond the early adopter community and reach the great mass of the public, you have to make an economic argument," Crane said. Ultimately, that will require making it clear to the public that the cost of an electric vehicle is a lot cheaper than a conventional car.

"We want to appeal to the great mass of the American public, whether green-oriented or not," he said, adding that the green energy economy represents an enormous opportunity for his company.

By the middle part of this decade, he expects the green part of his company -- which includes renewable generation, green power and green products like the electric vehicle infrastructure -- to account for about 25 percent of its profits, somewhere in the range of $500 million to $600 million.

"Ultimately, this is going to be a big business for us. And soon," he said.

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