The proportion of Australia's electricity that comes from clean sources has fallen sharply over the past 50 years despite a decade of federal and state climate change programs.
Research by consultants Green Energy Markets shows that renewable energy provided 19 per cent of Australia's power in 1960, following the development of the early stages of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.
By 2008 it had plummeted to just 7 per cent – a reflection of the heavy investment in coal power in the second half of the previous century. The decline in clean energy was steady across four decades before stabilising after 2000 due to growth in wind power and a modest increase in bio-energy.
Environment Victoria, which commissioned the research, said it demonstrated how poorly Australia had invested in renewable power despite widespread agreement that exceptional resources were available.
''For all of the hand-wringing about climate change over the past decade, we've seen massive growth in emissions from coal generation while renewable energy has flatlined,'' campaigns director Mark Wakeham said.
''What this research clearly shows is that without a price on carbon the Australian economy will continue with pollution-as-usual.''
The research comes as the federal government continues to consult with lobby groups from industry, the environmental movement and the welfare sector over the structure of the carbon price scheme being developed by a committee of Labor, Greens and independent MPs. It has promised to release the proposed design by mid-year.
Options being considered include using some carbon price revenue to pay to close one of the most greenhouse-intensive Victorian brown-coal power plants.
The Baillieu government last week abandoned talks with the owners of the Hazelwood power plant, often described as Australia's ''dirtiest'', to close a quarter of its capacity by 2014.
The research found the amount of electricity derived from coal increased by nearly 10 per cent between 2001 and 2009.
Carbon dioxide emissions from coal power increased by about 14 million tonnes over that period. Three new black-coal-fired power plants were built in Queensland; only one was decommissioned.
Gas – a form of fossil fuel power with lower emissions than coal – has increased from nothing in 1960 to providing about 9 per cent of the electricity supply, largely due to a Queensland gas generation target and the NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme.
Generation from renewable sources fluctuated across the decade, with the amount coming from hydro falling due to the drought but gradually being replaced by new plants, mostly wind farms.