Buoyed by rate increases, Xcel Energy’s third-quarter profits were up 7 percent over a year ago, beating Wall Street’s expectations.
The company also reiterated Thursday that its plans for massive new wind farms in Minnesota and Colorado will pay off for ratepayers and stockholders alike.
“We expect that both of these wind projects [in Minnesota and Colorado] will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel savings for our customers, which will more than offset the capital cost [to build them],” Xcel CEO Ben Fowke told stock analysts in a conference call.
Xcel posted earnings on Thursday of $458 million, or 90 cents per share, for the third quarter ending Sept. 30, up from $426 million, or 84 cents per share, a year ago. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were expecting earnings per share of 87 cents on average.
Xcel’s third-quarter revenue was $3.04 billion, up a half-percentage point over a year ago, but below the consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters of $3.27 billion.
The company Thursday also narrowed its 2016 full-year earnings guidance to $2.17 to $2.22, compared with the previous estimate of $2.12 to $2.27. The consensus analyst estimate for 2016 — going into Thursday’s earnings release — was $2.19 per share.
“Third-quarter results were in line with our plan, and we are confident we will deliver earnings within our narrowed 2016 guidance range,” Fowke said in a statement. “We continue to see new customer growth in much of our service territories.”
Minneapolis-based Xcel does business in eight states, with Colorado and Minnesota serving as its largest markets. Xcel is Minnesota’s largest utility, providing electricity in much of the state and natural gas heating in St. Paul and elsewhere.
Electric and gas profit margins for Xcel rose in the third quarter, the most significant driver for earnings growth. Margins were up largely due to rate increases. Growth in retail electricity sales and favorable weather — more hot days that required air conditioning — also played a role, as did riders (added to customers’ bills) that allow Xcel to cover costs for infrastructure investments.
Xcel elaborated on its capital investment plans to analysts Thursday, particularly for wind power.
“Xcel continues to demonstrate its leadership in renewable energy investments,” said Travis Miller, a stock analyst at Morningstar Inc. “The big takeaway from today’s [quarterly] update is that the company has found more opportunities to invest in renewable energy above and beyond their already large renewable energy portfolio.”
Xcel is the nation’s leading utility for wind power production. Earlier this week, it announced it would build three new wind farms in Minnesota and one in North Dakota, which together will have a capacity of 750 megawatts. And that is just half of the wind generation the company plans to add in the Upper Midwest by 2020.
The Minnesota and North Dakota projects still need regulatory approval. Earlier this year, Colorado approved Xcel’s plans for a 600 megawatt wind farm. To put the wind power plants’ generation capacity in perspective, Xcel’s two largest Minnesota coal generators kick out 680 megawatts (though they can produce power all of the time, not just intermittently like wind farms).
Also on Thursday, Xcel set out its 2017 guidance Thursday, looking for profits of $2.25 to $2.35 per share.
Xcel’s stock ended Thursday slightly down at $40.44 a share.