Charlotte-based Duke Power (NYSE:DUK) may not have lit up results for the first quarter, but this utility's performance was solid all the same.

Revenue was only up about 2% in the quarter, coming in at $5.75 billion. Improved operating performance, though, led to considerably higher growth down the income statement. Stripping out certain gains, charges and losses, fully diluted ongoing EPS came in at $0.43 -- a nice bump up from $0.32 in the year-ago quarter.

Performance in the company's franchise electricity business was ho-hum. While industrial sales climbed 6% and Duke added 2% more residential customers, mild winter weather reduced electricity demand during the quarter. As a result, EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) fell from $424 million to $336 million.

Results in the company's natural gas transmission and field services businesses were considerably better. EBIT in the natural gas transmission business climbed about 2%, while adjusted EBIT in the field services business was up 66%. Reported results were even stronger in the field services business, as the company recorded a $791 million gain from the sale of its interest in TEPPCO GP earlier in the year.

Other electricity-generating efforts were a mixed bag. While the company's North American operations picked up, they were still losing money on an EBIT basis. Overseas, though, Duke saw EBIT climb from $29 million to $68 million on good results in Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, and the National Methanol business.

Duke Energy continues to make progress reducing its debt load -- ending the quarter with about $3 billion less than in the year-ago period. The utility's cash flow isn't going solely to debt repayment; the company has ongoing share-repurchase programs and the dividend payout is still pretty healthy.

Duke Energy shareholders have enjoyed a pretty good run of late. The stock is up nearly 40% over the past year and still yields over 3.7%. Despite what looks like an investor flight-to-safety that has pushed up many utility stocks, Duke Energy shares don't appear particularly overvalued. What's more, Duke's portfolio of nuclear assets provides insulation from rising fossil fuel prices, while its merchant power business could still benefit from a strong partnership.

Although I wouldn't be too sure that another 40% rise in the stock will come over the next 52 weeks, patient investors should be pleased with the combined return (capital gains and dividend income) that Duke Energy will generate over the next couple of years.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).