In this Nov. 28, 2019 file photo, smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province. (AP) In this Nov. 28, 2019 file photo, smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province. (AP)

In this Nov. 28, 2019 file photo, smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant in Hejin in central China's Shanxi Province. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 13, 2020

Viral Facebook post on number of coal plants is wrong

If you’re ticked off about the number of coal plants in the world, don’t point your finger at the United States, suggests a misleading Facebook post.

The post said that there are "5,615 projected coal-powered plants in just 8 countries. The USA has 15 - building 0 more."

It arrives at that total number of adding up what it says is the number of existing coal plants and the number of coal plants under construction in multiple countries and the European Union. According to the post, the United States only has 15 plants while China has 2,363 and is building 1,171 more.

"LET'S GO WHERE THE PROBLEMS REALLY EXISTS!!!!!!!!" states the post.

We did not find any numbers to back up the 5,615 total. But the post has a point that there are more plants in China than in the United States. 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Similar versions of this post have circulated for months. 

For actual data on the number of coal plants in various countries, we turned to the Global Coal Plant Tracker published by the Global Energy Monitor. The group has board members from such environmental groups as Clean Energy Action, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Action Network. The Global Coal Plant Tracker includes all coal-fired units 30 megawatts or larger.

The tracker’s July 29 list of coal fired power stations by country counts 2,459 plants in operation, 256 under construction and 359 planned for construction. That adds up to a total of 3,074, far less than the 5,615 in the Facebook post.

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For the United States, the tracker shows that there are 296 in operation (nearly 20 times more than what this Facebook post claims) with none under construction. In China, there are 1,032 in operation (less than half of what the post claims), 126 under construction and 76 planned for construction.

Generally, the best way to compare capacity is by megawatts, said Anna Mikulska, a fellow for the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University. The global tracker’s data shows China at the highest capacity (987,364) followed by the United States (254,332) and then India (225,638).

While we found no evidence to back up the numbers in the Facebook post, it is worth noting that the growth of coal isn’t in the United States. 

"It is true that whatever coal the world is going to add, is going to be mostly in the developing world, India and China as well as Southeast Asia," Mikulska said. "Thus, there is a point to be made that that's where we need to look into to try to act upon climate goals."

The United States and Europe are turning away from coal due to cheap and abundant gas and policy considerations, she said. But the developing world is more likely to rely more on coal because it is cheaper, widely available and easier to store and transport.

Related FACT-CHECK: Are 1,600 new coal-fired power plants being constructed today?

Related FACT-CHECK: Does China burn seven to eight times as much coal as the U.S.?

Our ruling

A Facebook post said there are "5,615 projected coal-powered plants in just 8 countries. The USA has 15 - building 0 more."

The post stated that the number includes plants in operation and being built, but didn’t cite a source and we found no evidence to back it up. The Global Plant Coal Tracker showed a total of 3,074 if we include those that exist now, are under construction or in preconstruction.

The Facebook post exaggerates the number of coal plants. We rate it False.

Our Sources

Facebook Post, Aug. 23, 2019

Global Coal Plant Tracker, July 2019

AFP Fact-Check, These figures for the number of active coal-fired power plants in select countries are inaccurate, Sept. 20, 2019

PolitiFact, Does China burn seven to eight times as much coal as the U.S.? Dec. 4, 2019

PolitiFact, Are 1,600 new coal-fired power plants being constructed today? Sept. 20, 2019

Email interview, Giselle Barry, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass. Spokeswoman, Jan. 9, 2019

Email interview, Anna Mikulska, nonresident fellow in energy studies for the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, Jan. 10, 2019

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Viral Facebook post on number of coal plants is wrong

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