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Weather put crimp in Avista’s 1Q earnings

El Niño weather patterns took a bite out of Avista Corp.’s first-quarter earnings.

“We had a challenging first quarter because our region experienced one of the warmest January-to-March periods on record combined with low precipitation and snowpack,” Chairman, President and CEO Scott Morris said Thursday. “This weather pattern reduced our retail loads, hydroelectric generation and net income.”

The company reported net income of $28.8 million, or 52 cents per diluted share, for the first quarter. That compares to $31 million, or 57 cents per share, for the first quarter of 2009.

Net income for Avista’s utilities operation was $27.8 million in the first quarter, down from $30.6 million a year ago.

Morris said that residential electricity use was down 11 percent per customer and residential natural gas use off 21 percent compared to the first quarter of 2009. Commercial customer use dropped 8 percent for electricity and 23 percent for natural gas.

Despite the weather impact, Avista said it is confirming its 2010 earnings guidance with the expectation it will be at the low end of the $1.55 to $1.75 per share range.

“We continue to aggressively manage our business, and I believe we are well positioned to continue our long-term earnings growth,” Morris said.

Investors will see a boost in their stock dividends, Avista said. The board of directors increased the quarterly common stock dividend to 25 cents per share, up from 21 cents a share one year ago.