The state's unusually harsh winter didn't chill profits at South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

Earnings at the investor-owned utility jumped 40 percent to $126 million for the first quarter, as demand for power and natural gas surged during the period, its parent company said Thursday.

The frosty conditions also translated in higher earnings for SCE&G owner SCANA Corp. Its profit jumped 28 percent to $193 million, or $1.37 per share, for the first three months of the year. Analysts expected the holding company to report per-share earnings of $1.10.

SCANA's revenue for the first three months of the year totaled $1.59 billion, up 22 percent and well above the projected $1.28 billion.

Cayce-based SCANA said it was pleased with the results, which got a lift from two other factors.

"Margins were higher than last year due mainly to an extremely cold first quarter, continued customer growth in our service territories and a rate increase at South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.," said Jimmy Addison, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Addison noted that SCE&G in December ended a program that was designed to minimize weather-related spikes in its customers' power bills by spreading out the payments. The result is that earnings now immediately reflect "the impact of abnormal weather in our electric business," he said.

After dropping the billing experiment, SCE&G began charging customers for their actual monthly power usage in January, just before the state was plunged into a deep freeze that drove up demand for electricity and gas. Another brutal storm in February brought up to an inch of ice that snapped trees and dumped up to 8 inches of snow in the Upstate.

Addison illustrated the cool conditions during a conference call with financial analysts.

"To give you an example, we had 17 days in March where the lows were in the 30s," he said Thursday. "I know I'm not going to get any sympathy from you in New York with those kind of temperatures, but that is very unusual in the Southeast with that kind of weather."

He also told the analysts on the call that the winter gain could easily be eroded by "a mild July or August" this summer.

As of March 31, SCE&G had about 681,000 electric and 332,000 natural gas customers in South Carolina, respective increases of 1.3 percent and 2.4 percent from a year ago. Also, two sister companies serve about 700,000 gas customers in North Carolina and Georgia.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.