Dividend stocks are everywhere, but many just downright stink. In some cases, the business model is in serious jeopardy, or the dividend itself isn't sustainable. In others, the dividend is so low, it's not even worth the paper your dividend check is printed on. A solid dividend strikes the right balance of growth, value, and sustainability.

Today, and one day each week for the rest of the year, we're going to look at one dividend-paying company that you can put in your portfolio for the long term without too much concern. This isn't to say these stocks don't share the same macro risks that other companies have, but they are a step above your common grade of dividend stock. Check out last week's selection.

This week I want to yet again highlight a company from the electric utilities sector, but one that has a unique catch that I'll explain shortly, NextEra Energy (NYS: NEE) .


The renewable energy king
Having previously highlighted two of America's largest electric utilities, Duke Energy (NYS: DUK) and Exelon (NYS: EXC) , as great dividends you can buy, you're probably wondering what makes NextEra any different from the rest. Duke dominates the electricity market in the Carolinas, giving it incredible pricing power, while Exelon derives a good chunk of its revenue from clean nuclear power. What makes NextEra so unique is that it's the United States' largest generator of alternative energy electricity!

According to NextEra's home page, the company possessed 158 MW of solar power generating capability and 8,569 MW of wind-generating capacity as of the end of 2011, and is capable of generating roughly 41,000 MW of electricity given all of its various facilities.Keep in mind that NextEra's business operations do involve transmission, distribution, and sale of electricity, as well as generation, which does include coal-powered facilities. The company, in its latest quarterly report, noted the addition of 1500 MW of wind-generating capacity in 2012 and has plans to add 900 MW of solar fields through between now and 2016. 

Having a heavy reliance on renewable and clean energies like wind, solar, hydroelectric, nuclear, and natural gas gives NextEra investors a few key perks.

To begin with, in addition to being good for the environment, renewable energies help to reduce consumer electricity costs -- good news for everyone involved. A heavy focus on renewables will also place NextEra in the good graces of both Democrats or Republicans. One of the very few unifying measures that crosses party lines is the need to make the U.S. more energy independent, and to do so with cleaner burning and renewable fuels. Being on the cutting edge of alternative energy generation, NextEra is likely to be looked on favorably by the government and the public for years to come.

Challenges aside, NextEra is a winner
Like all other electric utilities, NextEra will face numerous challenges, such as decreased demand due to unusually warm weather, the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy, and a balance sheet that bears the burden of $26.5 billion in net debt. Yet for all these concerns, which are especially extreme for its peers like Consolidated Edison (NYS: ED) and Public Service Enterprise Group (NYS: PEG) that are still attempting to restore power to customers in New York and New Jersey and repair the damage in Sandy's wake, NextEra appears to be a premier investment.

The bulk of NextEra's customers come from its Florida Power & Light segment which has seen steady customer growth of roughly 0.7% per quarter over the past 10 quarters. The big driver of this growth, as I alluded to already, is its continued investments in clean energies, which should help keep customer rates low while allowing NextEra to earn a robust 10.7% return on equity. It should be noted, though, that this ROE settlement is still pending approval. 

From a valuation perspective, you shouldn't let NextEra's large debt burden worry you either. It's produced positive free cash flow in all but one of the past 10 years and is valued at a trailing P/E of 13 which is both slightly below its five-year average and more than 45% below the electric utility sector average. In other words, you can count on this company to meet its debt obligations.

17 Reasons to love NextEra
Now let's take a look at why we're really here: NextEra's impressive dividend growth.

Sure, you can get a higher yield by looking around the utility sector, but few utilities have as impressive a streak of growth as NextEra which has raised its dividend for 17 consecutive years:


Source: Dividata, assumes $0.60 quarterly payments in 2012.

As you can see from the chart above, not only has NextEra boosted its dividend, but it's done so in a big way. The company's quarterly payouts have risen by an average of 6.4% per year since 1994 and are up a total of 186% over that time. Further, NextEra's payout ratio of 45% is still relatively low and should yield multiple future dividend increases.

Foolish roundup
This is a rare case of being able to have your cake and eat it too. NextEra is a socially responsible electric utility that's focused on keeping consumer rates down and investing heavily in renewable energies while also maintaining one of the best returns on equity in the sector. Relative to its peers it's priced very attractively, and should bear less drop-off in demand from Hurricane Sandy than many of its East Coast peers. On top of being solidly profitable, it also pays out a robust 3.5% yield that looks likely to head even higher. NextEra is definitely a dividend-paying company you can count on.

If you'd be interested in another energy stock our analysts are high on that boasts an even higher yield than NextEra, then click here to get your copy of our latest special report and find out the identity of the one energy stock you must own before 2014.

The article 1 Great Dividend You Can Buy Right Now originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on Motley Fool CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of, and writing puts on, Exelon. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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