Unitil 1Q earnings, sales fall


A warm winter and cold economy hurt Unitil Corp. in the first quarter, according to the company's most recent financial filings.The Hampton-based utility posted earnings of $6.5 million, or 61 cents a share, in the first quarter, a drop of more than a third from last year's first quarter. Average earnings per share dropped even more -- almost by half -- after the company diluted share value when it issued 35 percent more shares to finance the 2008 merger with Northern Utilities and Granite State Gas Transmission. Operating earnings also fell, to $113 million, a 17 percent decline.Natural gas sales dropped to $61 million, a 15.6 percent drop, primarily because of warmer weather. The company said there were 7.6 percent fewer heating days compared to the first quarter of 2009. But even accounting for that weather, sales were down, thanks to a slower economy and increased conservation.Electricity revenue declined 18 percent, also due to a combination of warmer weather, energy conservation and the poor economy.The company will be declaring a 34.5 cent dividend on May 14, for shareholders of record on April 30.Until has a number of regulatory and legal hurdles to overcome relating to the ice storm of December 2008, when some customers were in the dark for more than a week. They include fending off a class action suit, implementing a series of capital improvements as required by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, and dealing with a New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission probe into the matter.The company also estimated that it has spent $9 million to repair and replace electrical distribution systems damaged during a wind storm in February, which knocked out power to 85 percent of the company’s customers. The utility noted that this time 96 percent of those customers got their power back in less than three days.That cost is included in the company’s recent request for a 9 percent increase in residential and commercial rates. -- BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW
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