Piedmont Natural Gas reported net income of $113.7 million, or $1.55 per share, for its first fiscal quarter ending 1/31/2010. The company earned $80.9 million, or $1.10 per share, in the same quarter last year.

Piedmont Natural Gas said that its net income for the quarter was artificially boosted by a one-time gain from the sale of a 15% ownership stake in SouthStar Energy Services. The company sold this stake for $57.5 million in early January 2010, and booked a $30.2 million, or $0.41 per share, gain on the sale. Piedmont Natural Gas still retains a 15% stake in SouthStar Energy Services.

Thomas E. Skains, the CEO of Piedmont Natural Gas, said, “In this time of continuing economic challenge, we are very pleased with our performance through the first quarter of the year. We continue to experience customer growth even as new construction activity remains constrained in the current market environment. We remain focused on our plan of improving our business processes, providing excellent customer service, exploring new growth opportunities in an ever-changing energy environment, and delivering long-term shareholder value.”

Piedmont Natural Gas also increased its dividend payout to shareholders for the 32nd consecutive year. The company will pay out $0.28 per share on April 15 to shareholders of record on March 25.

Piedmont Natural Gas is a distributor of natural gas to one million utility customers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The company serves residential, commercial and industrial customers.