It's always interesting to take a look at companies that have a direct effect on my own daily life. And while such frivolous businesses as Viacom or Creative certainly touch me in some way every day, today I'll talk a bit about more basic necessities.

In the winter, my home is heated by natural gas from a TECO Energy (NYSE:TE) subsidiary, and my family regularly cooks on a stove powered by that gas. Electric power comes from local competitor Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN). Three cheers to the reader that comes closest to pinpointing my location! (You can find my email address at the bottom of this article.)

So how did TECO do this quarter? Higher sales year over year -- thanks to warmer weather and a rapidly growing local customer base for the mainstay electric power division -- led to better earnings than expected. Analysts wanted to see $0.23 of pro forma earnings per share, and the company delivered $0.29.

That's impressive, considering higher fuel costs and the impact of TECO's sale of certain synthetic fuel facilities last year. As a potential investor, that kind of operational fortitude makes me very happy, but as a consumer, my first instinct is to check whether I'm being ripped off. But the natural gas unit reported slightly lower income than last year, blaming "statewide heating degree-days that were significantly below normal." So TECO remains on my "nice" list. At least for now.

As for the future, TECO is idling the synthetic fuel plants it sold. This will make sense in a second. It's simply more cost-effective right now to sell coal than to convert it into synthetic fuel, mainly because TECO has an agreement to run the production plants, sell the fuel, and pass the associated tax credits on to the owners of these facilities. The tax credits phase out at higher oil prices, and we all know what happened to those prices. So the plants are inactive, waiting for better times.

You'd think that a power generation company would be easy to get a grip on, but there are always unique wrinkles to every story. And don't even get me started on Otter Tail Power (NASDAQ:OTTR). That mini-conglomerate has its latest earnings report scheduled for tonight.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns none of the stocks discussed here. The Foolish disclosure comes with a side of bacon -- crispy, but not too crispy. You can check out Anders' holdings whenever you like.