Unitil reports 3Q earnings increase

If you are a Unitil customer reading this on a computer this morning despite Hurricane Sandy, you might have benefited from the $2.5 million that the Hampton-based utility spent on vegetation clearing during the last nine months.

And if you are a customer without power, you paid for it anyway in your electric bill, according to the company's most recent quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The costs were passed through, and did not affect the company's bottom line – a profit of about $500,000, or 3 cents a share, for the third quarter ending Sept 30, and $9.1 million, or 74 cents per share, year to date. That's an improvement over the same quarter last year, when the company lost $1.6 million, and is a $2.8 million improvement year to date.

The company attributes the increased profits primarily to increased margins. The usage picture is mixed.

For electricity, there was a slight quarterly increase of usage on the residential side, and lower usage on the commercial side, whereas with gas it was the reverse. Year to date, overall usage fell by 8 percent for gas and 2.3 percent for electricity, with the mild winter at the beginning of the year primarily to blame. The price of both commodities dropped, but the difference between the sale price and the purchase price increased, making up for the increase in operation and maintenance expenses, which includes that $2.5 million spent on vegetation control year to date ($1 million of that was spent in the third quarter.)Those expenses are included in a rate settlement reached in 2011 that extends through to 2016, with estimated future increases of $1.5 million to $2 million in annual revenue to occur annually from 2012 through 2014 to support such improvements in the company's distribution system.

In February, the company filed a $1.5 million adjustment – implemented back in May – which included rate increases to recover costs for its vegetation and management program and reliability enhancement program.

After all was said and done, Unitil was able to declare a quarterly dividend of 34.5 cents a share, bringing the annual dividend rate to $1.38 per share.

Unitil serves about 100,000 electric customers and 72,000 gas customers, mostly in New Hampshire, with some in Fitchburg, Mass.


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