For investors in search of income, public utility stocks can be an alternative to bonds. As interest rates and prices dictate, many people move back and forth between the two.

Investors buy utility stocks in good part for the high dividends. As interest rates rise, they sell the utility stocks and move into higher-yielding bonds.

As the selling pushes the price of the utility stocks down, their yields (the dividend divided by the price) move up. Eventually they become attractive compared with bonds.

Utility companies have had problems recently, particularly the huge investments many of them made in nuclear power plants that opened late or not at all.

That means you can't automatically assume that all utility stocks have attractive dividends.

But deciding between bonds and utility stocks requires more than just comparing current yield. You are buying two things in a utility stock: the dividend and a moderate amount of price appreciation over time.

For instance, if the dividend produces a yield of 7.5 percent and the price of the stock appreciates 3 percent over the year, your total return is 10.5 percent -- more than a government bond paying, say, 8.5 percent, even though you have to sell the stock to realize the appreciation. Of course, it can be difficult to predict whether a stock's price will rise.

Some utility companies you might want to consider are Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., General Public Utilities, Dominion Resources and Wisconsin Electric Power Co.