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UPDATE 1-Japan power providers scramble for supplies as cold snap jolts prices

(Recasts adding detail on call for power saving, fuel switching)

TOKYO, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Japan’s utilities on Tuesday called on the public to save power as electricity generators resorted to using fuel oil, instead of coal, to meet surging demand for heating with frigid temperatures gripping much of the country.

Power prices again jumped to record highs above 200 yen ($1.92) per kilowatt hour (kWh), highlighting a crunch not seen since the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, as providers scrambled to source supplies.

Japan’s utilities federation issued a statement urging users to save power as its members squeeze as much capacity as they can out of generation units and asked industrial users to help supply the grid. The government also urged the public to conserve energy.

The country’s utilities have also started to provide other power companies with oil supplies to use for generation, while trying to source more liquefied natural gas (LNG) in international markets, where they are competing with China, which is experiencing record low temperatures in places.

Electric Power Development (J-Power), which mainly runs coal and hydro plants, is switching a coal power station to only fuel oil, a spokesman said.

“We don’t usually run a coal fired power plant with oil and we do it only when supply is very tight and additional power is needed,” he said.

Frigid weather across north Asia has caught utilities, particularly LNG importers, off guard as the demand for power reduced fuel inventories.

Japan’s benchmark power price hit a record high of 222.30 yen/kWh with temperatures fell below zero in parts of the country, including Tokyo in recent days.

The country’s weather bureau is forecasting a low of 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) for Tokyo on Wednesday and temperatures near below -10C in other areas.

($1 = 104.1500 yen)

Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi; Editing by Kim Coghill and Louise Heavens

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