Colder-than-usual weather improved annual income at Charlotte, NC-based Piedmont Natural Gas Co., which reported earnings of $74.4 million ($2.22/share) for fiscal 2003, compared with $62.2 million ($1.89) in 2002. Results included a $5.5 million (17 cents/share) increase because of its changes in accounting, which now record natural gas revenues and costs on volumes delivered but not yet billed.

The energy services company distributes gas to 920,000 residential, commercial and industrial utility customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, including 57,000 customers served by municipalities that are wholesale customers.

In the fourth quarter, which ended Oct. 31, Piedmont recorded what it termed “usual” losses, which totaled $5 million (minus 15 cents/share), and included an increase in net income of $4 million (12 cents), associated with unbilled revenues. The losses were less than 4Q2002, when Piedmont recorded a loss of $11.8 million (minus 36 cents).

Non-utility activities contributed $11.4 million to net income (34 cents) in 2003, compared with $11.7 million (35 cents) in 2002. The company’s interest in SouthStar Energy Services LLC, which is primarily engaged in the unregulated retail natural gas market in Georgia, contributed $6.4 million to net income, (19 cents) this year, compared with $8.9 million (27 cents) last year.

“We set new milestones in fiscal year 2003 for net income and earnings per share,” said CEO Thomas E. Skains. “It was also a historic growth year for the company. With a successful team effort from many talented and dedicated employees, we closed the transaction to purchase North Carolina Natural Gas (NCNG) from Progress Energy in the fourth quarter, and we look forward to the contributions of our new NCNG division in 2004.”

Total throughput for the 2003 fiscal year was 149.1 MM Dth, including 3.1 MM Dth from the effect of delivered but not yet billed volumes, compared with throughput of 126.1 MM Dth in 2002. Operations and maintenance expenses for 2003 increased over last year because of an increase in payroll, benefits and risk insurance costs, the provision for “doubtful” accounts and NCNG operations.

Piedmont has scheduled a conference call to discuss its earnings at 2:30 p.m. EST on Monday (Dec. 15), which can be accessed on its web site at

Piedmont’s board of directors also issued several personnel announcements. CEO Skains, who also holds the title of president, was elected as chairman. He had been named president and CEO last February. And Donald S. Russell, who had served on the board for 37 years, announced his retirement on Friday. Russell’s father helped found Piedmont in 1951. Piedmont’s board also elected Frank B. Holding Jr. to the board. Holding is president of First Citizens Bank of Raleigh, NC.

In other news, Mike Forrester was named vice president-South Carolina operations, effective Dec. 22. Forrester replaces Bill Workman, who is retiring Feb. 1, 2004 after 10 years.

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