April 12 (Reuters) - U.S. power generators in New England reduced their use of natural gas as prices spiked during a cold snap in January, and they turned mostly to oil and coal to fuel their plants, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a report.
The cold snap caused an increase in gas demand for heating in New England that taxed the region's pipeline capacity and boosted prices of the fuel.
The EIA said generation from gas-fired units fell was down 18 percent, or 860,000 megawatt hours, in January from a year earlier.
Consumption of residual fuel oil for power generation in New England, meanwhile, rose 380 percent, with additional increases in distillate fuel oil and kerosene consumption, the EIA said.
Overall, power companies used 446,000 barrels of oil to generate power in January, up from 127,000 barrels a year earlier.
Oil is rarely used for power generation - it accounted for only 0.3 percent of total annual generation in 2012 for New England - because it typically is more expensive than other fuels, the 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.
Of the 32,000 megawatts of installed generating capacity in New England, about 4,600 MW burn oil only, and 8,500 MW can burn either oil or gas. Most of the remaining power plants in the region are either nuclear or burn only gas.
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, the EIA said.
Overall, the 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.