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NRG’s Chief Executive Relinquishes Post In Face of Falling Stock Prices

During 12-year tenure at independent power company, CEO established Princeton-based firm as leader in wholesale and retail energy markets

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David Crane

Princeton-based NRG Energy is looking for a new chief executive officer to turn around its sliding fortunes.

CEO David Crane stepped down this past Thursday after a year in which the company saw its stock price drop nearly 60 percent, unable to survive a rocky period in the power sector as prices plummeted.

The only executive to lead the company since it emerged from bankruptcy over a dozen years ago, Crane was at the NRG’s helm as it emerged as a leader in the wholesale and retail energy markets and stood out as an outspoken advocate of clean energy, which didn’t deliver profits quickly enough to satisfy investors.

A statement from the company indicated that Maurice Gutierrez, executive vice president and chief operating officer since July 2010, will replace Crane as interim president and CEO.

Crane’s departure comes at a time when NRG’s share prices fell to a 12-year low last week. The company closed at $9 on Friday, a day when shares fell 18 percent.

“It’s been a challenge for some time,’’ said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst at Glenrock Associates in New York City. “I don’t think it’s surprising he’s stepping down given the stock’s performance.’’

In September, as the company struggled, Crane announced a restructuring plan to spin off its clean-energy ventures from its fossil-fuel business.

NRG is not an outlier among independent power producers, many of which have shared the Princeton’s company’s fate in a market where prices for generating electricity have steadily fallen, according to Patterson. On Friday, for example, Dynergy’s shares also fell 18 percent.

During Crane’s tenure, NRG grew into the largest independent power producer in the nation, with a diverse fleet of power plants that included units powered by nuclear, coal, and natural gas. His company also was one of the leaders in building plug-in charging stations for electric vehicles, as well as deploying solar installations.

At one time, NRG also owned a subsidiary seeking to build wind farms, including a proposal to build a facility off the New Jersey coast. It shut down that business in 2011 because it could not find suitable partners to invest in such projects. NRG also owns a retail energy business, selling electricity directly to consumers. It has almost 3 million residential and commercial customers.

Some renewable-energy advocates said it is not surprising NRG had a difficult time delivering for investors on its investments in clean energy.

“There have been disappointments in big companies investing in renewable energy,’’ said Lyle Rawlings, founder and president of Advanced Solar Products, a firm based in Flemington. “The growth is too slow; the going is too tough. That’s what NRG ran into head-on.’’

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