Natural gas snared a larger share of power generation in January due to lower prices and colder weather, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported Tuesday. Net generation attributable to gas was up by 40.7% from January 2006.

In its April Electric Power Monthly, EIA noted that December 2006 was the 11th warmest December on record, but more normal weather returned in January, particularly in the eastern U.S. Heating degree days in January were 23.9% higher than the same time last year but still were 8.9% lower than normal. The increased demand for winter heating combined with economic growth — industrial production up 1.6% in January from a year ago — yielded a 7.5% increase in net generation from January 2006.

And natural gas was poised to benefit from that increase due to lower commodity prices. Natural gas consumption for power generation was up 38.9% in January from a year ago while coal use was up 4.6% and consumption of petroleum liquids was up 6.3%. Petroleum coke consumption was down 18.3%.

Year-to-date through December 2006, the average price paid for gas by power generators was $6.92/MMBtu, a decrease of 15.7% from the same period of 2005, EIA said. The average price paid for gas by power generators was $7.42/MMBtu in December 2006, a 1.9% increase from the November 2006 level of $7.28/MMBtu. However, the December 2006 price paid for gas by generators was 31.4% lower than the December 2005 price of $10.82/MMBtu.

While the generation market share of gas was up in January, gas still is dwarfed by coal. Coal accounted for 49.9% of the electricity generated in the nation’s power plants in January. Nuclear’s share was 21%. Gas had 16.9% of the market, and 1.7% of January power was generated at petroleum-fired plants. Conventional hydroelectric plants provided 7.5% of the power. The remaining power supply came from renewables such as biomass, geothermal, solar and wind, EIA said.

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