The claim: General Motors admits 95% of energy for electric vehicles comes from coal
With the rise in electric vehicles and charging stations, some people are questioning if the cars are actually as environmentally friendly as advertised.
Social media users are using an outdated and misleading video to claim automaker General Motors said 95% of energy for charging electric cars comes from coal.
“GM admits the ‘clean’ energy used to charge electric cars comes from COAL. 95% coal, to be exact,” reads a July 13 Facebook post.
The claim went viral in April, after a video was shared to YouTube titled, “GM spokesperson admits 95% of ‘clean’ energy to charge electric cars comes from COAL.”
But the video used to support the claim is from 2010, and it’s inaccurate to say 95% of energy for electric cars comes from coal.
The Facebook user who shared the post did not return a request for comment.
A misleading documentary
The video referenced in the claims as evidence is from a 2010 news conference in Lansing, Michigan, regarding the Chevy Volt, a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle manufactured by GM.
The clip was part of “Planet of the Humans,” a documentary directed by Jeff Gibbs. It was released in 2020 ahead of Earth Day, and climate experts say the film is full of falsehoods and outdated information on renewable energy.
Zimmerman says the charging station for the car is connected to a building, and she is unfamiliar with the building’s source of energy. Lark responds by saying the electric car is running off of Lansing’s electric grid, which runs off of 95% coal.
“The comments in question were made by a representative of a local utility, not by GM,” GM spokesperson Darryll Harrison told USA TODAY.
Without any additional context, the short clip misleads people into believing that electric cars rely heavily on coal, but in reality that comment refers only to one city. The power production breakdown across the U.S. is far different than that 95% figure.
Coal generated 19% of U.S. power in 2020
Over the past 10 years, cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar have significantly increased, and annual U.S. coal production hit a record low in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Per data from the EIA, 60% of electricity generation in the U.S. in 2020 was from fossil fuels: coal (19.3%), natural gas (40.3%) and petroleum (0.4%). Nuclear energy made up 20%, and 20% was from renewable energy sources such as wind, hydropower and solar.
In other words, reality is nowhere close to the claim that coal provides 95%.
“Electricity mixes vary by state, and GM is helping drive the transition to renewable energy via additive power purchase agreements and green tariffs which help create demand for more renewable energy,” Harrison told USA TODAY via email. “We are confident that as we scale electric vehicles, the mix of renewable energy will continue to improve as it has over recent years.”
Experts and researchers agree that as electric cars gain popularity, they will become greener, along with energy sources.
A March 2020 joint study conducted by researchers at the universities of Cambridge, Exeter and Nijmegen concluded driving an electric vehicle is better for the environment than driving a gas-powered car in 95% of the world. (This does not include areas like Poland, where electricity is mostly based on coal.)
“Electric cars lead to lower carbon emissions overall, even if electricity generation still involves substantial amounts of fossil fuel,” according to the study.
Our rating: False
The claim that GM said 95% of energy for charging electric vehicles comes from coal is FALSE, based on our research. A representative for a local utility company said this 10 years ago, not GM. And the reference then was to Lansing, not the nation as a whole. The latest data shows 19% of electricity in the U.S. is generated by coal.
Our fact-check sources:
- Yale Climate Connections, May 1, 2020, Michael Moore’s ‘Planet of the Humans’ documentary peddles dangerous climate denial
- Michigan Live, June 3, 2010, Chevy Volt on schedule for November launch
- Vimeo, July 5, 2020, Planet of the Humans
- Deadline, April 21, 2020, Michael Moore Releases ‘Planet Of The Humans’ Documentary For Free On Eve of Earth Day
- Michigan Live, Jan. 13, 2015, Peter Lark ousted as chair of Lansing Board of Water and Light, but there’s no ‘smoking gun’ as to why
- Society for Experimental Mechanics, accessed July 29, Kristin Zimmerman
- Darryll Harrison, July 29, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, accessed July 30, Renewable Energy
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 14, In 2020, U.S. coal production fell to its lowest level since 1965
- Nature Sustainability, March 23, 2020, Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions over time
- University of Exeter, March 23, Electric cars better for climate in 95% of the world
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, February, What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source?
- USA TODAY, Oct. 17, 2020, Fact check: Electric vehicles emit fewer emissions and are better for the environment
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