Editor's Pick: Originally Published Wednesday, Dec. 23.

Utility stocks have lately encountered tough times, with the utility sector now rated by several analysts as one of the worst performing of 2015.

However, we've found three utility stocks that you can count on amid the turbulence. 

For the next year, while the market sentiment for major indices and blue chips is expected to be tepid at best, you should consider these six still-strong utilities that assure income growth through a favorable track record of dividend payments.

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AEE

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1. Ameren (AEE) - Get Report

Ameren is one of the nation's largest investor-owned electric and gas utilities with over $20 billion in assets.

Led by Warner Baxter, chairman, president and CEO, Ameren for the year to date has seen core diluted earnings per share grow from $2.21 to $2.44, a rise of over 10%. For fiscal 2016, EPS is expected to grow to $2.71.

The stock pays a healthy dividend yield of 3.86%, with a projected yield near 4%. In fact, Ameren is among the top 10 dividend-paying diversified utility stocks in the industry. As such, the stock belongs in your dividend portfolio for next year.

In 2015, the company announced total dividends of $1.65 a share, a nearly 3% growth over 2014 ($1.61 cents). The company has been paying stable annual dividends between $1.54 and $1.61 a share for the last five years and its payout ratio (trailing 12 months) is at 67.3%. The consensus forecast among 11 investment analysts covering Ameren is that it will beat the market. In fact, the stock (on a total returns basis) has fared better than regulated electric utilities every year from 2010 to 2014 -- and this year as well.

The company's growth strategy is three-pronged: a renewable mandate, transmission and distribution, and energy efficiency.

At 15.6 times forward earnings, Ameren is cheaper than peers Just Energy (24.8 times) and Pattern Energy (40.8 times).

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PPL

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2. PPL (PPL) - Get Report

PPL is one of the largest investor-owned companies in the U.S. utility sector. Its utilities are Western Power Distribution, Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities, and PPL Electric Utilities. PPL's reliable earnings, solid dividends and robust asset base promises a good opportunity.

Offering a 4.52% annual dividend yield, PPL is among the top 15 dividend-paying electric utilities. The company has delivered growing dividends since 2012 and its payout ratio is comfortable at 68.6%. After spinning off its supply business into Talen Energy, the company now has the room to sharpen its focus on attractive regulated growth opportunities.

Available at 14.5 times forward earnings, PPL is cheaper than TransAlta (31. 2 times), Covanta Holding (53.2 times), Southern (15.6 times) and Empire District Electric (18. 4 times).

The company expects 2015 EPS at $2.20, a jump of 8.3% from 2014's adjusted EPS of $2.04. PPL offers investors a pure-play utility with an announced annual total return of 10% to 12%.

A strong financial foundation, good domestic cash flows, an ongoing capex program, and a number of earnings drivers makes the company a great utility stock option.

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ES

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3. Eversource Energy (ES) - Get Report

Eversource Energy is another diversified utility stock. It trades at 16.3 times forward earnings and offers a dividend yield of 3.34%. The company has grown dividend payouts by 8.7% compounded annually between 2011 and 2015 (2015 payout is $1.67 a share and in 2011 it was $1.10).

After growing EPS by 9% to 10% for the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, the number clocks in over 6% in the fiscal year 2016.

Between 2010 and 2014, Eversource outperformed the regulated electric stocks every year, and it's proved to be a better wealth protector in the 2015 year to date, with it shares reflecting a loss of 2.46% as against a loss of 5.11% for its peer set (on a total returns basis).

The company has an impressive reach, with over 3 million electric and natural gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Over 4,200 miles of electric transmission lines, 72,000 miles of electric distribution lines and 6,500 miles of natural gas distribution lines gives it a wide area of operations.

Here are three reasons to buy the stock: 1) The company has projected a long-term EPS growth of 6% to 8%; 2) The management is confident of its ability to reduce operations and maintenance costs by an average of 3% annually through 2018; and 3) It possesses the only "A" credit rating in the industry.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.