Electric utility Southern Company's (NYSE:SO) second-quarter earnings press release says it best, "Solid Second-Quarter Performance."

When you supply electricity to the sun-soaked states of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Georgia, you are in the path of population and business growth. And sun and growth are a natural combination.

Southern Company reported revenue of $3.14 billion, slightly above the average analyst estimate. At $0.52 a share, earnings beat analysts' estimates by a penny and handily topped last year's comparable quarter of $0.48 a share.

How good is it to own an electric franchise in the southern United States? Well, this chart of the company's stock over the last decade shows that the stock has more than doubled -- and that doesn't include the benefit from collecting a steady stream of dividends.

Ah, dividends. The company's dividend yield is currently 4.1%. Mix some growth and strong dividends together, and you have a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation.

Still, don't let all that sun and growth blind you to the shady spots. Being in the right place at the right time doesn't mean you automatically make money. Tampa Electric parent TECO Energy (NYSE:TE) has suffered mightily from its foray into merchant power -- and that suffering is clearly seen in its stock.

But rising earnings are not a guarantee. Southern's goal is 5% annual earnings growth for the long term. That seems doable when you realize today's above-analyst earnings came during a quarter when energy prices were high and weather in the quarter was the second-mildest second quarter in the last 15 years. I mean, imagine making money in electricity when Southerners are not running their air conditioners full blast..

The total return on Southern Company (stock gain plus dividends) since its recommendation in the December 2003 issue of Income Investor is 28%. During the same period, the S&P 500 returned 21%. Southern Company is a great example of a great company. Offering slow but steady growth and a strong dividend can produce market-beating results all on its own.

Are you looking for great companies with outstanding dividends that offer both long-term earnings and dividend growth? Try a free trial of the Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter and let them narrow that search down for you.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty owns shares in Southern Company -- surprise, surprise! Click here to see the Motley Fool's ironclad disclosure policy.