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HAMPTON, N.H. — Unitil Corp. — distributor of electricity and natural gas to Fitchburg, Ashby, Lunenburg and Townsend — announced Thursday that higher sales and margins partially offset by higher net operating expenses drove a 7.9 percent first-quarter earnings boost over the same time last year.

Unitil announced net income of $13.6 million, or $0.98 per share, for the first quarter, an increase of $1 million, or $0.07 per share, compared to the company’s results for the first quarter of 2014.

“Sustained customer growth in our natural gas business, a successful regulatory agenda and a cold New England winter resulted in a strong first quarter for our Company,” said Robert G. Schoenberger, Unitil’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “We expect this growth to continue in the years ahead.”

Unitil reported:

* Natural-gas sales margin was $38.8 million in the three months ended March 31, resulting in an increase of $2.3 million compared to the same period in 2014. Natural gas sales margin was positively affected by higher therm unit sales in the first quarter of 2015, a growing customer base and higher distribution rates.

* Therm sales of natural gas increased 6.5 percent in the three months ended March 31, 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. The increase in gas therm sales in the company’s service territories was driven by colder winter weather in the first quarter of 2015 compared to 2014 coupled with strong growth in the number of customers.

* There were 4 percent more heating degree days in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Weather-normalized gas therm sales are estimated to be up 4.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.

* Electric sales margin was $21.2 million in the three months ended March 31, resulting in an increase of $2.0 million compared to the same period in 2014 primarily reflecting higher electric distribution rates.

* Electric kilowatt-hour (kWh) sales increased 0.3% compared to the first quarter of 2014.

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