Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) reported yesterday that its first-quarter earnings dropped ever so slightly, from $358 million in the first quarter of 2006 to $357 million for the first quarter of 2007.

A closer look at the numbers, however, reveals that results were considerably stronger than the reported figures. The 2006 figures included earnings from Spectra Energy (NYSE:SE), the natural gas transmission business that Duke spun off at the beginning of this year.

If you exclude some one-time costs and focus on adjusted earnings from continuing operations, Duke earned $0.30 per share in the first quarter of 2007, compared to $0.21 for the first quarter of 2006.

Duke's prospects for future growth look promising. According to James Rogers, Duke's CEO, the company is making favorable progress toward building two natural gas-fired plants and a coal-fired plant.

If there's a cloud hanging over the company, it relates to a proposed nuclear facility in South Carolina. At the current time, it appears that plans for the Lee Nuclear Plant are proceeding accordingly, although the company has not yet officially filed for an operating license later this year with the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Perhaps more significantly, it was reported earlier this week that Southern Company (NYSE:SO) has decided to end its relationship with the project and is selling Duke its share in the plant. In a prepared statement, Southern said it believed the project was still viable but that it just wanted to concentrate on its own development.

Provided Duke can turn the corner on nuclear power, I don't think that this week's dip is anything more than a small speed bump on an otherwise smooth road.

Duke, Spectra, and Southern Company are all Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Want to find out what all the buzz is about? Check out a 30-day all-access free trial today.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.