Saul wrote the book on all-electric homes, but his gas company is fighting back

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Other owners have told the Herald that the gas disconnect process was unnecessarily difficult and the price ranged from $2,000 to less than $100.

Engineer and inventor Dr Saul Griffith wants to make it easier for Australians to switch from gas to electric.Credit:Leigh Vogel

“Electrification must become the default, not the exception, and our energy system must enable rather than hinder households.”

Saul Griffith

Sometimes they were asked to take the simpler option and close the account while retaining the gas connection. “It’s like telling a smoker who wants to quit to keep a pack of cigarettes handy in case they change their mind,” Griffith said.

Despite the initial costs of installing induction cooktops and heat pumps for hot water, Griffith said consumers faced with rising gas bills knew they would be better off because electricity rooftop solar “was by far the cheapest energy that was ever available”.

“Electrification must become the default, not the exception, and our energy system must enable rather than hinder households,” he said.

A Facebook group dedicated to electricity, My Efficient Electric Home, has doubled its membership to 63,500 in the past year with many posts about the variable cost and difficulty of eliminating gas.

The group’s founder and co-director, Tim Forcey of Sandringham, Victoria, said there was huge interest in moving away from fossil fuels. After switching his heating and stove to electric, he was paying $300 a year to stay connected to the gas grid.

Forcey ultimately paid $69 to have the meter removed. His energy-efficient house now costs $1,000 a year to operate.

Danny De Schutter, an ACT-based management consultant, used gas for hot water and heating until he installed solar power on his roof. “I no longer needed gasoline.

Instead of asking to remove the gas connection, he closed his account. De Schutter now receives regular formal notices addressed to “The Homeowner”. These letters warn that he may owe up to $600 for gas usage, although he no longer uses gas.

In Bathurst, Stephanie, who hid her last name, feared falling ill from an old gas heater. When she asked her retailer to go offline, she was told it would cost $110.

“They did the work and I was sent an invoice for $1151.70 when they had listed $110,” she said.

Stephanie, a disabled pensioner, told the gas company that she could not afford to pay and that she thought it was illegal to quote a price and charge more. “It’s a rip-off that a dying industry would do.”

After some negotiation, retailer AGL finally agreed to waive the higher fee.

Asked about Griffith’s challenge to the suppression charge, a spokesperson for Jemena said “all fees and charges have been submitted to the Australian Energy Regulator for review and approval (including disconnection and suppression)” .

The price for a “direct disconnect” was $102 when the property remained physically connected to the gas grid. Removals were “fairly rare”, labor intensive, and involved the permanent, physical removal of the gas connection.

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The NSW Energy and Water Ombudsman said it receives very few complaints about gas disconnection charges, but does receive complaints from customers who have to pay to reconnect.

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