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NRG director wins strong shareholder support despite NYC opposition

By Ross Kerber

BOSTON, April 28 (Reuters) - A director at NRG Energy Inc was elected to its board with a strong margin of votes cast, a securities filing showed on Friday, overcoming concerns about his comments on climate change and the intentions of the activist investors who backed him at the New Jersey power company.

The result from NRG's annual meeting, which was held Thursday morning at a hotel in Princeton, New Jersey but not disclosed at the time, showed a lack of support among investors for a campaign led by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer against the director, Barry Smitherman.

In an April 6 letter Stringer, who oversees New York City pension funds, urged investors to oppose Smitherman's election, citing what he called the activists' "short-term orientation" that did not consider the views of most other shareholders.

Stringer also said Smitherman's views on climate change should disqualify him to be a director of the company involved in renewable power like solar and wind energy.

Despite Stringer's efforts at NRG, however, Smitherman won support from 93 percent of votes cast, the filing showed. All but one other director nominee won higher vote shares.

A representative for NRG's board said Smitherman and others would not comment on Stringer's concerns. An NRG spokeswoman declined to comment on the results on Friday evening.

Smitherman, a former Texas energy regulator, was named to NRG's board in February under an agreement it reached with Elliott Management, the hedge fund run by Paul Singer, and private equity firm Bluescape Energy Partners, which together had about 9 percent of NRG.

Stringer had cited Smitherman's past comments such as when, as a Texas political candidate, he said he had "been battling this global warming hoax for 6 years now."

The Princeton, New Jersey company also agreed to form a board committee to review its operations and strategy.

In an e-mailed statement Stringer said the outcome was still a "shot across the bow against short-term activists." He also said, "It's clear our campaign elevated the issues, mobilized investors, and put the board on notice."

In other cases Stringer has proven effective at mobilizing investors behind corporate governance causes such as "proxy access," making it easier for groups of shareholders to run their own director candidates.

By his offices' count more than 300 companies have instituted the change after Stringer made it a focus, including General Electric and Citigroup Inc.

(Reporting by Ross Kerber; editing by Diane Craft)