After the presentation, the conference will be opened to analysts for questions and answers. In conjunction with this call, Wisconsin Energy has posted on its website a package of detailed financial information at www.wisconsinenergy.com. A replay of our remarks will be available approximately two hours after the conclusion of this call.
And now, it’s my pleasure to introduce Mr. Gale Klappa, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of Wisconsin Energy Corporation.
Colleen, thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us as we review the company’s 2012 first quarter results.
Let me begin, as always, by introducing the members of the Wisconsin Energy management team who are here with me today. We have Allen Leverett, President and Chief Executive of We Generation; Rick Kuester, our Chief Financial Officer; Susan Martin, General Counsel; Pat Keyes, our Treasurer; and Steve Dickson, Controller. Susan, of course, was recently promoted to the General Counsel position. She succeeds Jim Fleming, who retired just a few weeks ago.
Rick will review our financial results in detail in just a moment. But as you saw from our news release this morning, we reported earnings from continuing operations of $0.74 a share for the first quarter of 2012. This compares with earnings of $0.72 a share for the first quarter of 2011.
Weather of course both regionally and nationally was the big story in the opening quarter of 2012. For Wisconsin Energy, the warmest winter in 122 years drove down residential demand for natural gas by nearly 24% compared to last year’s first quarter. As you’ll recall, sharply lower demand for natural gas prompted us to revise our first quarter earnings guidance on March 29. At the same time, we also reaffirmed our full year forecast.
Now, although the weather was a dominant factor in our first quarter results, there were several bright spots that I’d like to briefly touch on. First, we had a positive swing of $17 million from the recovery of fuel costs in the quarter compared with the first quarter of 2011. We also recorded significantly lower operation and maintenance costs. That’s largely because of the one-year holiday on regulatory amortizations approved by the Wisconsin Commission in the order that froze our base rates for 2012. We also had lower interest costs and there was an uptick in electric sales to our largest customers.