April 12 (Reuters) - U.S. power generators in New England reduced their use of natural gas and turned mostly to oil and coal to fuel their plants as gas prices spiked during a cold snap in January, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in a report.
The cold snap caused an increase in gas demand for heating in New England that taxed the region's gas pipeline capacity and boosted gas prices.
EIA said generation from gas-fired units fell was down 18 percent, or 860,000 megawatt hours, in January 2013 compared with January 2012.
Consumption of residual fuel oil for power generation in New England, meanwhile, increased 380 percent between January 2012 and January 2013, with additional increases in distillate fuel oil and kerosene consumption, EIA said.
Overall, power companies used 446,000 barrels of oil to generate power in January 2013, up from 127,000 barrels in January 2012.
Oil is rarely used for power generation - only 0.3 percent of total annual generation in 2012 for New England - because it typically is more expensive than other fuels, EIA said.
But New England and New York have a significant amount of oil-fired and dual-fired generating capacity, which allows generators to switch between oil and gas when needed depending on price and available fuel supplies.
New England also imports and exports electricity to and from Canada and New York. New England usually imports more electricity, largely hydropower, from Canada than it exports, mostly to the New York City area, EIA said.
Overall, EIA said net imports in New England were 50 percent higher during January 2013 than in January 2012.
The biggest power generators in New England include units of NextEra Energy Inc, Dominion Resources Inc, Entergy Corp, Exelon Corp, NRG Energy Inc and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc.