Let’s Check CNN’s “Facts” On Coal Production, Shall We?

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CNN claimed in a Jan. 7 article that “more coal-fired power plants have closed under Trump than in Obama’s first term.


Verdict: Unsubstantiated

Experts generally look at the number of generators retired and gigawatts of capacity lost, not plants closed, making it difficult to directly evaluate CNN’s claim. Nearly three times more generator units were retired in former President Barack Obama’s first four years as president than in the first two years of President Donald Trump’s presidency. However, capacity losses have been higher under Trump than in Obama’s first term.

Fact Check: 

CNN’s claim relies on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The agency tracks the retirement and planned retirement of coal-fired electric generation capacity in gigawatts, not total plant closures.

Every coal-fired power plant operates generator units, and as these generators have declined in recent years, so has the capacity of coal power.

EIA’s data, which CNN cited to make its claim, shows that the first few years of Obama’s presidency coincided with very low incidences of capacity loss. During Obama’s first term in office, around 15 gigawatts of capacity were lost. About 20 gigawatts of capacity were retired during Trump’s first two years in office.

However, capacity loss does not necessarily correlate with the number of plants retired. Of the 4.5 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity expected to retire in 2019, half will come from the retirement of a single plant in Arizona. By contrast, many small plants with far smaller capacity have retired over the years.

“Many of the coal plants that retired during the Obama administrations were laggards by industry standards. They tended to be old and small, and ran only a fraction of the time,” Climatewire reported in 2018.

Hugh Wynne, an energy analyst at Sector and Sovereign Research, told Forbes in 2010 that coal-fired plants with 220 megawatts of capacity or less made up 22 percent of the country’s coal capacity.

If many small plants closed during Obama’s first term, then CNN’s claim may be factually incorrect. 


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