Xcel Energy Inc., the owner of utilities in Minneapolis and Denver, said higher electricity sales pushed up fourth-quarter profit 37 percent.

Net income rose to $134 million, or 31 cents a share, from $97.7 million, or 23 cents a share, a year earlier, the Minneapolis-based company said Wednesday. Xcel was expected to earn 28 cents a share, the average of six analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg News. Sales rose 5.5 percent, to $2.6 billion.

Xcel won a rate increase in Colorado that went into effect in January last year. The company is investing in wind-power turbines and pollution controls at coal-fired power plants to satisfy demands for more environmentally friendly energy.

"They got a tailwind from the Colorado outcome," said Travis Miller, an analyst at Morningstar Investment Service in Chicago who rates the shares three stars out of five. "It was a steady quarter."

Per-share utility profit from continuing operations rose to 33 cents, from 26 cents, helped by electric and gas rate increases and stronger demand, the company said.

Xcel shares rose 19 cents to $20.79. The stock, which has four "buy" recommendations from analysts and 10 "holds," has fallen 7.9 percent this year.

Xcel affirmed an earlier forecast for an increase in 2008 profit to $1.45 to $1.55 a share, from $1.35 a share in 2007.

The company distributes electricity to 3.3 million homes and businesses and natural gas to 1.8 million customers in eight states. It gets about 85 percent of its profit in Minnesota and Colorado. The company won rate increases of $39.4 million in Wisconsin that took effect Jan. 9.

Xcel has said it expects its utilities to get about 24 percent of their power from wind turbines and other renewable sources by 2020, up from 9 percent in 2006. It has proposed investments that would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 22 percent in Minnesota by 2020 and by 10 percent in Colorado by 2017.