Saul wrote the book on all-electric homes, but his gas company is putting up a fight

Other homeowners told the Herald that the process of disconnecting gas was unnecessarily difficult and varied in price from as much as $2000 to less than $100.

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

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

Saul Griffith

Sometimes they were urged to opt for the easiest option and close the account but keep the gas connection. “This is akin to telling a smoker who wants to quit that they should keep a packet of cigarettes on hand in case they change their mind,” said Griffith.

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

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

A Facebook group dedicated to going electric, My Efficient Electric Home, has doubled in members to 63,500 over the past year with many posts on the varying cost and difficulty of removing gas.

Group founder and co-admin Tim Forcey of Sandringham, Victoria, said there was huge interest in moving away from fossil fuels. After switching his heating and stove to electricity, he had been paying $300 a year to remain connected to the gas grid.

Forcey finally paid $69 to have the meter removed. His energy-efficient home now costs $1000 a year to run.

Danny De Schutter, a management consultant based in the ACT, was using gas for hot water and heating until he put solar on his roof. “I didn’t need gas any more.”

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

In Bathurst, Stephanie, who withheld her last name, feared she was getting sick from an old gas heater. When she asked her retailer to disconnect, she was told it would cost $110.

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

Stephanie, a disability pensioner, told the gas company she couldn’t afford to pay and that she thought it was illegal to quote one price, and charge more. “It is a scammy thing that a dying industry would do.”

After some negotiation, retailer AGL finally agreed to reverse the larger charge.

Asked about Griffith’s challenge of the abolishment fee, a spokesperson for Jemena said “all fees and charges were presented to the Australian Energy Regulator for review and endorsement (including disconnection and abolishment).”

The price of a “straightforward disconnection” was $102 where the property remained physically connected to the gas network. Abolishments were “quite rare”, labour-intensive, and involved the gas connection being permanently and physically, removed.

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

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