Southern Co.'s third-quarter profit rises

Fewer people running the air conditioning led to a decrease in electricity use across Atlanta-based Southern Co.'s four-state territory during the third quarter, the company said Wednesday.

Net income for the quarter was $916 million, or $1.07 a share, compared with $817 million, or 98 cents a share. Revenue for the quarter, ending Sept. 30, rose 2 percent to $5.43 billion, from $5.32 billion during the same period a year ago. The company expects its 2011 earnings to fall on the high end of the projected $2.48-$2.56 range, Southern Chief Financial Officer Art Beattie said.

Regulatory actions -- including a fee added to Georgia Power's customer bills in January to help pay for the utility's planned nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle -- continued to boost the company's profits, Southern said Wednesday.

Third-quarter operating revenue for Georgia Power, the state's largest utility, was $2.8 billion, up 6.1 percent from $2.6 billion a year ago.

Southern CEO Tom Fanning told investors the company sees "no reason why we shouldn't get" a key license by December to build two new nuclear reactors at Vogtle.

A cooler September led to residential and commercial customers using less electricity, Southern said. Residential electricity sales decreased 6.9 percent, and commercial sales were down 3.4 percent. The number of Southern's customers held steady at 4.4 million.

Electricity sales from industrial customers rose 1.6 percent, however, further indicating that industrial production will lead economic development in the Southeast, company executives said.

"As industrial continues to grow, we think the jobs will show up, and we'll see recovery in residential and commercial customers," Fanning told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Any increase in manufacturing jobs has been offset by layoffs on the construction, financial services and public sector side, keeping Southern's customer base flat, Beattie told the AJC.

The company regularly consults with state and county officials, and executives point to more than 300 economic development-related projects that could potentially crop up in Southern's territory as reason to expect an increase in customer growth over the next several years.

"We still have reason to be bullish," Fanning said.