San Francisco-based PG&E Corp. spent nearly $4 billion on utility capital infrastructure investments last year, but its profits nevertheless declined quarter-over-quarter and year-over year at the end of 2009, the combination utility reported Friday.

PG&E had net income in the fourth quarter of $273 million, or 71 cents/share, compared with $517 million, or $1.37/share, for the same period in 2008. For 2009 overall, profits were $1.22 billion, or $3.20/share, compared with $1.34 billion, or $3.63/share, for all of 2008.

The holding company for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., PG&E noted that the higher 2008 profits included a one-time benefit from a settlement of federal tax audits for the 2001-2004 period when the utility was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The one-time boost amounted to $257 million, or 68 cents/share. That same one-time benefit was reflected in the higher 2008 fourth-quarter profits, the company said.

PG&E’s senior officials did not schedule a conference call in the wake of the earnings report Friday, but chose to hold off adding color to the results until March 1 at an analysts’ conference it will be hosting in New York City.

The guidance provided by CEO Peter Darbee calls for 2010 earnings in the range of $3.35-3.50/share; and for 2011, $3.65-3.85/share.

Setting aside the one-time windfall in 2008 earnings, PG&E experienced increased year-over-year profits last year, and the company attributed that boost to new capital investments in utility infrastructure totaling $3.9 billion for 2009. That greatly increased the asset base on which PG&E’s utility operations are allowed to earn a profit.

Darbee called the 2009 results “solid,” noting that the company is committed to a long-term, multi-billion-dollar investments in its natural gas and electric utility systems. “We will continue these initiatives in 2010.”

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