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FED: Coal-fired power stations meme fuels a stack of misinformation

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Mick Pacholli
Mick Pachollihttps://tagg.com.au
Mick created TAGG - The Alternative Gig Guide in 1979 with Helmut Katterl, the world's first real Street Magazine. He had been involved with his father's publishing business, Toorak Times and associated publications since 1972.  Mick was also involved in Melbourne's music scene for a number of years opening venues, discovering and managing bands and providing information and support for the industry.        

Published At : Tue Dec 14 15:31:42 2021 FactCheck Roberts Meme


One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts has shared misleading information that dates back to at least 2015.

By AAP FactCheck


WHAT WAS CLAIMED

More than a thousand new coal plants are being built around the world while Australia plans to shut down its remaining facilities.

OUR VERDICT

False. The claim is based on a misinterpretation of out-of-date data, greatly exaggerating the total number of coal plants in operation and under construction.

MELBOURNE, Dec 14 AAP – One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts has shared a meme which claims hundreds of new coal-fired power plants are being built around the globe while Australia’s purported six remaining power plants are being shut down.

The meme’s information is false. Its figures appear to be based on coal plant units, not coal plants, which means it significantly overstates the numbers in operation. Even still, the data on coal plant units is outdated and misinterpreted. In addition, the number of coal plants in operation in Australia is much higher than the six claimed.

The meme includes the text: “Here is the number of coal powered plants today.” It then lists the purported number of existing and planned coal-fired power plants in the European Union (EU), Turkey, South Africa, India, Philippines, South Korea, Japan and China.

The meme ends by saying: “Australia is planning to shut down the remaining 6 plants in ord er to SAVE the World”. Senator Roberts, who has long denied humans are causing climate change, tweeted the meme on December 6 with the comment: “In the face of a more aggressive China, stopping all coal in Australia will be like shooting ourselves in the leg.”

In 2019, AAP FactCheck investigated a meme that used identical numbers to the version tweeted by Senator Roberts. As explained at the time, the figures appear to originate from an article published by UK newspaper The Times in December 2015 that reported more than 2,400 coal-fired power plants were under construction or being planned around the world.

The article included an infographic purporting to show t he number of existing and planned coal plants across the EU, Turkey, South Africa, India, Philippines, South Korea, Japan and China, with figures matching those in the meme.

The Times cited the source of the numbers in the infographic as the Global Coal Plant Tracker, an interactive data tool maintained by nonprofit organisation Global Energy Monitor (GEM), and energy analyst company Platts, which is now part of S&P Global Platts. The infographic can be seen in a post on the Watts Up With That blog, which frequently posts climate change-related misinformation.

However, while the fig ures are described in the infographic as representing “coal plants”, Flora Champenois, who manages GEM’s Global Coal Plant Tracker, told AAP FactCheck they were instead most likely related to coal plant units.

Coal plants often consist of multiple units, meaning a count of global coal plant units is much higher than a count of coal plants. For example, Millmerran power plant in south-west Queensland comprises two units, Eraring power station in NSW has four units and Victoria’s now-closed Hazelwood plant had eight.

Ms Champenois told AAP FactCheck in an email that she was n ot able to immediately match the meme to historical d ata but it was “likely referencing outdated GEM data and incorrectly modifying and interpreting it”.

This Guardian Australia article explains how a similar misinterpretation of GEM data led to false claims in 2017 that hundreds of new coal-fired power plants were due to be built around the world. Ms Champenois described the meme as “completely inaccurate and outdated”.

The actual number of coal-fired power plants in each of the countries listed in the meme are very different to the claimed figures. As of Ju ly 2021, Global Coal Plant Tracker data showed:

  • The EU had 206 coal plants in operation plus three in construction and one in pre-construction
  • Turkey had 34 coal-fired power plants plus two in construction and 15 in pre-construction
  • South Africa had 19 plus two in construction and four in pre-construction
  • India had 281 plus 28 in construction and 23 in pre-construction
  • The Philippines had 24 plus three in construction and six in pre-construction
  • South Korea had 22 plus four in construction and none in pre-construction
  • Japan had 92 plus seven in construction and none in pre-construction
  • China had 1087 plus 95 in construction and 143 in pre-construction
  • Australia had 19 plus none in construction and one in pre-construction.

Across the EU and eight countries named in the meme, the data showed a total of 1784 coal plants were in operation in July 2021, compared to the 3741 claimed in the meme. The same data shows 337 plants were either in construction or pre-construction in those countries, compared to 1892 plants the meme claims are being built.

Ms Champenois told AAP FactCheck that many proposed coal plants were cancelled before construction. Therefore, the number of “pre-construction” coal plants should not be interpreted as the number of new coal plants that will necessarily be built.

Even if the meme had correctly labelled the figures as coal plant units, every number in the meme relating to either existing or planned coal plants would still be wrong based on current figures.

The Global Coal Plant Tracker’s dataset shows that across the EU and the eight named countries there were 5044 coal plant units either in operation, under construction or in pre-construction stage as of July 2021, compared to a total of 5615 existing and future facilities claimed in the meme.

In January 2020, PolitiFact debunked similar misinformation about the number of coal plants around the world.

Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator lists 19 active coal-fired power plants in Australia, matching the Global Coal Plant Tracker data. A spokesperson for the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources told AAP FactCheck /b>in an email there were 20 coal-fired power plants in operation. The two sets of figures were based on differing approaches to counting some multi-unit facilities.

As part of the Australian government’s plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, its modelling predicted coal-fired power would still form part of the electricity grid at that time.

However, most of the county’s coal-fired power plants are scheduled for closure within the next 20 years, and several of these closure dates have been brought forward, according to researchers at the Grattan Institute. They wrote in November that states’ renewable energy targets would likely determine how quickly Australia became coal power-free.

The Verdict

The figures in the meme are out of date and greatly exaggerate the total number of coal-fired power plants in use and under construction across the world. The data appears to originate from a 2015 infographic, which wrongly described coal plant units as coal plants. In addition, the meme incorrectly suggests coal plants in various stages of planning are being built, when some of these projects may not proceed.

False – The claim is inaccurate.AAP WS/PB/JEL

AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


Global Coal Plant Tracker

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