Unitil 4Q earnings rise

Higher rates helped boost Unitil Corp’s profits last quarter.The Hampton-based utility increased its earnings fourfold in the last quarter of 2010, to $5.2 million, compared to $1.2 million in the last quarter of 2009, the company announced Thursday.That strong finish helped boost revenue to $9.5 million, or 88 cents a share, for the full year of 2010, just under the $9.9 million earned in 2009.The warmer temperatures – including the hottest July in a half a century – helped boost electricity sales last year. Indeed, July’s electricity usage was a record, reflecting a warming of both the earth and the economy. But that was offset by the milder winter earlier in the year, which hurt natural gas sales.Natural gas margins actually increased, but that was because in 2009 Massachusetts required the company to pay a $4.9 million refund in natural gas costs.July proved important in another aspect. That’s when the rates for Unitil’s New Hampshire electric companies were raised. And those hikes provided dividends of 34.5 cents a share for the quarter, for a total of $1.38 for the year. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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