* New users could add 4.5 bcm of gas demand
* China also switching 1.5 mln households to electric
* Residents facing expensive heating bills
By Meng Meng and Dominique Patton
BEIJING, Dec 13 China has switched another 3.29
million households to gas heating this winter, Reuters
calculations show, more than it added last year, as Beijing
continues to push the use of cleaner fuels to curb pollution.
Gas heating has been installed in recent months across a new
swathe of northern China - known for its heavy smog -
underlining the government's commitment to reduce pollution even
after last year's efforts triggered a fuel shortage that left
people freezing in their homes.
The new gas users will require an additional 4.53 billion
cubic metres (bcm) of gas in the Nov. 15 to Mar. 15 period, but
analysts said the increase would not necessarily boost overall
consumption in the country.
"If China wants to deliver gas as promised to households, it
will sacrifice industrial supplies," said Chen Zhu, managing
director of consultancy SIA Energy.
Last year's surge in gas demand combined with inadequate
storage and insufficient infrastructure to cause a supply crunch
that pushed prices to record levels just weeks into the heating
season, forcing Beijing to pause its clean-fuel campaign.
This year, a warmer-than-usual November, slack industrial
demand and higher supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG) have
pressured wholesale gas prices. China's energy majors also
bought more supplies ahead of the heating season, with November
gas imports via pipeline and ship hitting a record.
Even so, China is unlikely to meet the additional demand
from the new users, without cutting some supply to industry,
Reuters calculated the number of new households that
switched to gas boilers by subtracting the number of new
electricity users reported by State Grid - China's dominant grid
operator - from the total new households reported as using clean
fuels by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
An additional 1.5 million homes will use electricity for
heating, the numbers show, after Beijing proposed electric power
as an alternative to gas for cities in the Fenwei Plain.
The Fenwei Plain includes parts of Shanxi and Shaanxi, two
of China's biggest coal-producing provinces, as well as Henan.
Cities in the Fenwei Plain were included by Beijing as a "key
battlefield" in its war against air pollution in July, in
addition to 28 other cities in northern China.
China's top steel-making province, Hebei, and top
coal-producing region Shanxi were most aggressive in switching
to gas heating, while homes in Beijing and Shaanxi province
added more electricity than gas.
Chen Hao, a resident of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province,
said he doubted whether local households earning an average of
3,000 yuan a month could afford the extra 500 yuan in winter
heating bills after switching to gas.
Some people will also still burn coal, after local
governments relaxed an outright ban on coal for heating in
places not connected to gas supplies.
"This winter, village officials are under pressure to keep
us warm," said an elderly farmer surnamed Liu living in
Zhangjiapu village in Shanxi province.
Last year, Liu survived the winter without heat.
The table below shows the number of new gas or electric
heating users this year, according to data published by the
Ministry of Ecology and Environment and State Grid.
New New power Total Gas Power Gas
household users user user consumption
gas users pct pct from new
Beijing 39,000 122,600 161,600 24% 76% 0.054
Hebei 1.45 mln 319,000 1.77 mln 81% 18% 2.000
Tianjin 154,100 35,900 190,000 81% 19% 0.212
Shandong 210,000 240,000 450,000 47% 53% 0.289
Henan 598,000 300,000 898,000 67% 33% 0.824
Shanxi 601,000 62,000 663,000 91% 9% 0.828
Shaanxi 237,000 470,000 707,000 34% 66% 0.327
Total 3.29 mln 1.54 mln 4.84 mln 68% 32% 4.534
(Reporting by Meng Meng and Dominique Patton; Editing by Tom
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slump in December as traders and utilities wind back purchases
following signals from Beijing that it will stop clearing
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