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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 29, 2021

General Motors did not say 95% of the energy for electric cars comes from coal

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  • The claim appears to allude to a clip from a 2010 news conference in Lansing, Mich., about an electric vehicle. In that clip, a GM executive acknowledges that electricity in Lansing likely was produced by coal or natural gas.

It has become a familiar criticism of electric cars: that they’re only as clean and climate-friendly as the power used to charge them.

There’s truth to that. But a Facebook post pushing that argument with a gotcha tone misstates the facts.

"GM admits the 'clean' energy used to charge electric cars comes from COAL," the post says, "95% coal, to be exact. Stupid Sheep."

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.)

The July 13 post links to an article shared on social media earlier in the year, but it’s based on a video clip from more than a decade earlier, in which a GM executive at a news conference was talking about a then-pioneering plug-in hybrid car called the Chevy Volt, which GM manufactured from 2010 to 2019.

In that clip, the GM executive acknowledges that the electricity charging the demonstration car likely comes from coal and natural gas. She does not say that 95% of the energy for electric cars comes from coal.

The minute-long clip is taken from a longer segment that appears in "Planet of the Humans," a 2019 environmental documentary produced by Michael Moore, a longtime critic of GM.

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The film’s writer-director, Jeff Gibbs, attended the news conference, in Lansing, Mich., and asked questions of Kristin Zimmerman, who was then a GM executive and part of the team that developed the Volt.

Standing near the demo vehicle at an electric-car charging station, Zimmerman is asked what the source of the energy is for the electricity. She says that the charging station’s power is connected to the building in the background, but that she doesn’t know whether the building’s energy comes from coal or natural gas. 

The clip then cuts to J. Peter Lark, who was then an executive of the Lansing Board of Water & Light. He says the Volt was charging off Lansing’s electric grid, "which is about 95% coal." 

If that was accurate, there’s a good chance that the Volt at the news conference was charging its battery at that moment with electricity from coal. 

But that’s not the case for all charging stations. The electricity supply for electric cars depends on whatever the local sources of energy are where they’re being charged. Some regions don’t have coal-fired power plants. And nationwide, coal has been eclipsed over the past several years by natural gas as the biggest source of energy for electricity generation, with renewable sources such as wind and solar also playing a larger role. 

In the United States, 40% of electricity is generated by natural gas, 20% by nuclear, 20% by renewables, including wind and solar, and 19% by coal, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

"We are confident that as we scale electric vehicles, the mix of renewable energy will continue to improve as it has over recent years," a GM spokesman said.

So, it's not true that 95% of energy for electric cars comes from coal, and GM didn’t "admit" any such thing —  in 2010 or now. We rate the post False.

Our Sources

Facebook, post, July 13, 2021

YouTube, video, April 25, 2021

Twitter, post, Jan. 27, 2021

IMDb, "Planet of the Humans (2019) -- Kristin Zimmerman: Self - General Motors Spokesperson," accessed July 28, 2021

Natural News, "GM spokesperson Kristin Zimmerman admits 95% of "clean" energy to charge electric cars comes from COAL," Feb. 07, 2021

Amazon Prime, "Planet of the Humans" (11:45), accessed July 28, 2021

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Electricity explained," March 18, 2021

Email, Darryll Harrison Jr., General Motors director, Global EV/AV, Product Development and Strategic Technology Communications, July 29, 2021

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General Motors did not say 95% of the energy for electric cars comes from coal

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