Former Texas regulator Barry Smitherman joins NRG board

Dive Brief:

  • NRG Energy announced several changes to its board of directors, the result of agreements with Elliott Associates LP and Bluescape Energy Partners LLC, two investment firms owning a combined 9.4% of the company.
  • Under the agreement, Chairman Howard Cosgrove and Edward R. Muller resigned from the board and have been replaced by Barry Smitherman and C. John Wilder Jr. The agreement also creates a new five-person ad hoc committee to review NRG's capital structure and strategic initiatives, among other aspects of its operations.
  • Smitherman, former head of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, was widely thought to have been on the short-list to chair the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Dive Insight:

NRG's board shakeup is interesting in itself, but it could also shed light on the future composition of FERC. 

Smitherman was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission of Texas by then-Gov. Rick Perry, Trump's pick to head the Department of Energy, and was reported to be on the shortlist for a nomination to the federal commission. 

Presumably if talks for the federal chairmanship were moving ahead, he would not accept a seat at NRG. The company has business before the commission, and Smitherman would have to give up his board seat to take one at FERC.

NRG CEO Mauricio Gutierrez said the company has spent the last year "streamlining our business, reducing costs, strengthening our balance sheet, selling non-core assets and exiting unprofitable business lines. We remain committed to building on that progres."

Gutierrez took over as CEO in late 2015, when the company announced former President and CEO David Crane was stepping down.

Funds affiliated with Elliott Associates own  6.9% of NRG stock, while Bluescape owns 2.5%. With almost 10% between them, the two firms merited board representation. If Smitherman resigns or loses the board position before the end of this year, and if Wilder does the same before the end of 2018, investors retain the right to replace them according to the agreement, the Houston Business Journal points out. 

NRG said the new Business Review Committee will look at four key areas: operational and cost excellence initiatives; potential portfolio and/or asset de-consolidations, dispositions and optimization; capital structure and allocation; and broader strategic initiatives.

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