Mitigating carbon emissions from the coal-fired power system is at the core of China's carbon neutrality target. In this paper, we tracked the carbon footprint of coal-fired power plants from 2000 to 2020 in China, considering both construction and various operating processes. We linked an inventory of three types of plants (350MW, 660MW, and 1000MW) to an input–output database. The spatial distribution of the carbon footprint, carbon emissions per capita, and carbon emissions per unit economic output was used to show provincial gaps and regional imbalances. The results showed that the annual carbon emissions from China's coal-fired power plants increased by 2360.04 Mt from 2000 to 2020. Annual carbon emissions from the construction of coal-fired power plants peaked at 142.35 Mt in 2006 and decreased gradually after that. The carbon footprint gaps that existed between western and eastern provinces have narrowed with rapid growth of the annual carbon emissions per unit economic output and per capita in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Ningxia over the past 20 years. The variation in the carbon footprint highlights the need for tailored, spatially balanced measures for continued decarbonization of the coal-fired power system in each province beyond 2020.