This year’s conference season has got under way. London editor Graeme Demianyk reports from Brighton.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey has hailed the Westcountry for being at the vanguard of a community energy "revolution" by bulk buying electricity and gas.
Speaking at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, the minister hailed the Cornwall Together project – a partnership made up of Cornwall Council, Cornwall NHS, Unison, the Eden Project and St Austell Brewery which buys fuel at low prices and passes on the discounts to members of the scheme.
Mr Davey announced a £5 million competition to get communities around the country to follow suit.
Mr Davey said: "Cornwall Together will help Cornish people buy energy together – in a collective switch.
"To get 20,000 Cornish residents to sign up, aiming to save them an average of nearly £200 a year. So millions of pounds stay in the Cornish economy. That matters. That cash boosts local economic growth and cuts fuel poverty."
He went on: "We want councils and communities to come up with their own schemes. And we will make only one main rule. Winning schemes must include the fuel poor.
"And Liberal Democrats, armed with this new opportunity to push energy competition, we must campaign to help people cut their energy bills – campaign in our cities, towns and villages – and work with anyone who will work with us, co-operating for cheaper, energy.
"And I want to go further. I want nothing short of a community energy revolution."
Cornwall Together believes it could deliver up to £3.7 million worth of savings to Cornish households and businesses, and the longer-term vision is to include a large number of organisations and individuals in the scheme and eventually roll it out beyond the Duchy.
During his conference speech, Mr Davey also took aim at critics of investment in renewable energy, particularly wind farms. More than 100 Tory MPs wrote to David Cameron earlier this year demanding subsidies to onshore turbines are slashed. Money, paid through household bills, was cut by 10% though critics want more.
While onshore turbines are unpopular in Devon and Cornwall, power harnessed from wind, wave and solar is expected to generate thousands of jobs in the region in the coming decade, proponents say.
He told delegates: "I have no time for the sceptics who say we can't afford green investment."
Mr Davey said that opponents were putting at risk the growth equivalent of building 20 Olympic stadiums every year until 2020 and billions in private investment that would cover the "vast bulk" of the costs.