The Liddell power station in NSW is one of 21 coal-fired plants currently operating in Australia.

Worldwide coal plants claim is inaccurate

FactCheck August 26, 2019

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from August 19, 2019 by Get Our ABC Back which features a list of countries and purports to state the number of coal-fired power plants currently operating and being built in each country. 

A Facebook post from August 19, 2019 falsely states that there are six coal-fired power stations in Australia, all of which are to be shut down.

The post, titled “World Wide Coal Plants.” reads: “Here’s a small sample of how many coal plants there are in the world today / The EU has 468 plants, building 27 more for a total of 495 / Turkey has 56 plants, building 93 more total 149 / South Africa has 79, building 24 more total 103 / India has 589, building 446 more total 1036 / Philippines has 19, building 60 more total 79 / South Korea has 58. Building 26 more total 84 / Japan has 90, building 45 more total 135 / AND CHINA has 2363, building 1171 total 3534 / AUSTRALIA is planning to shut down their remaining 6 plants and save the planet!”.

Get Our ABC Back has more than 5000 page likes and states “Australia would like our ABC to be non political and unbiased in its media content. The ABC is funded by the people and should be for all the people, not a percentage of the people”.

The post had been shared more than 3200 times and attracted more than 120 comments and 370 reactions.

The Analysis

The Facebook post did not include a reference for the claimed power station statistics.

AAP FactCheck identified the same statistics – excluding those claimed for Australia – in an infographic accompanying an article published on July 3, 2017 on “Watts Up With That?”, a website that claims to be the “world’s most viewed website on climate”. The site’s founder and editor, Anthony Watts, describes himself as “a former (American Meteorological Society) AMS Television Seal Holder television meteorologist who spent 25 years on the air and who also operates a weather technology and content business, as well as continues daily forecasting on radio, just for fun”. 

The infographic accompanies the article titled “Forget Paris: 1600 New Coal Power Plants Built Around The World”. 

While the infographic does not include any statistics for Australia, according to a report, “Retirement of coal-fired power stations” released by the Australian federal Senate Environment and Communications References Committee in March, 2017, there were 24 coal-fired power stations in operation in Australia in 2017. (Chapter 2, Section 2.5)

As of 2019, Australia has 21 active coal-fired power plants, according to data compiled by the  Australian Energy Council. The Australian Energy Council is a body which represents major electricity and downstream natural gas businesses operating in wholesale and retail energy markets.

Australia’s operating coal-fired power stations. (Source: ElectricityGasAustralia 2019, Australian Energy Council)

The Watts Up With That article featured an excerpt of the first nine paragraphs from a New York Times (NYT) article from July 1, 2017 and linked at the end to the full NYT article. The NYT article covers a 2017 report by a German environmental organisation, Urgewald, about planned coal-fired power station construction in China. AAP FactCheck did not find a version of the infographic in the NYT article.  

The earliest incidence of the infographic found by AAP FactCheck is in UK newspaper The Times on December 2, 2015, alongside an article reporting that more than 2,400 new coal-fired plants are planned or under construction worldwide. The Times article cites a report, Climate Action Tracker, compiled by four groups: Ecofys, NewClimate Institute, Climate Analytics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. 

Sunday Times science and environment editor Jonathan Leake tweeted a link to the graphic on December 6, 2015.

The Times infographic’s sources are listed as the Global Coal Plant Tracker, which is published by US-based research and advocacy group Global Energy Monitor (formerly CoalSwarm), and Platts World Electric Power Plants database (WEPP). The Global Coal Plant Tracker is a database with statistics on coal-fired power generation around the world. Platts WEPP is described as an inventory of electric power generating units.

The infographic lists power stations under the categories “Existing” and “Planned”. 

AAP FactCheck could not identify the source of the data for “Existing” power stations. 

The numbers listed under “Planned” correspond to a table in the Climate Action Tracker report (see page 9) showing the number of plants planned for each country as of 2015.

However, the Climate Action Tracker report notes (see page 2) that its figure of 2,440 planned coal-fired power plants globally is based on a count of plants that are “announced”, “in pre-permit phase”, “permitted” and “under construction”.

The report also notes (see page 4) that “not all planned capacity will be constructed”.

A 2018 report, “Boom and Bust, Tracking the global coal plant pipeline” by CoalSwarm (now Global Energy Monitor), The Sierra Club and Greenpeace, states that there were declines globally in announced, pre-permit, permitted and under construction coal-fired energy capacity between January 2016 and January 2018. 

According to the Boom and Bust report (see page 4), new announcements fell 64 per cent in megawatts (MW) terms during the period, pre-permit stage projects fell 61 per cent in MW terms, permitted projects fell by 38 per cent in MW terms and projects under construction fell 38 per cent in MW terms.  

Total coal-fired power projects operating rose four per cent in MW terms in the period, the report said.

The Verdict 

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be a mixture of factually inaccurate and factually accurate claims.

The post’s claim that Australia was planning on shutting down its remaining six coal plants is false. At the time of the initial publication of the graphic in 2015, Australia had 24 coal-fired power stations and in 2019 has 21 coal-fired power plants. 

The numbers of existing coal fired power plants claimed for each country is supported by the numbers published in the Times infographic. However the numbers of plants the Facebook post claims each country is “building” misrepresents the “planned” figures in the infographic. Not all of those plants listed as “planned” are known to be under construction and the Climate Action Tracker report specifically states that not all planned capacity will be constructed.

Mixture – The Facebook post is a mixture of factually inaccurate and factually accurate claims.

 First published August 26, 2019 16:59 AEST

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