State environmental regulators issued their largest fine ever, $2.7 million, to an electric charging company over fraudulent claims, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality announced on Friday.
DEQ discovered Thompson Technical Services, or TTS Charging, sold more than $2 million in fraudulent credits through the agency’s clean fuels program. The program, implemented in 2016, is designed to help the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by 37% by 2035. It provides incentives, like credits, to companies that produce transportation fuels like electricity or biofuels. Those companies can then sell credits to other companies as a way to comply with state rules around reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Each credit is equal to 1 ton of reduced emissions.
According to DEQ, TTS Charging falsely claimed more than 16,000 in credits on June 10, alleging it dispensed nearly 15 million kilowatt hours of electricity from three vehicle charging stations earlier this year.
“It turns out that really wasn’t true,” said Harry Esteve, a spokesperson for DEQ. “They hadn’t dispensed any electricity, they hadn’t even set up the charging stations.”
The company then sold the credits on June 27 for nearly $1.8 million to an oil and natural gas transportation company, Elbow River Marketing, based in Canada.
In an emailed statement Tuesday, TTS Charging CEO Merlin Thompson said his company had no intention of defrauding the program.
Thompson said he meant to file for advance credits to help with the costs of future EV charging station sites. Advance crediting is an option DEQ offers to owners of EV fleets to receive clean fuel credits up to six years before they would normally be generated.
“I mistakenly filed claim forms for earned credits, not future credits,” Thompson said. “This was not my intention, and I fully believed I had filed correctly. "
The Sheridan site is not officially running, he said, and that is stated on the company’s Facebook page.
Thompson said he has filed an appeal and plans to work with DEQ to address the problem.
DEQ has revoked TTS Charging’s account with the clean fuels program. The agency has ordered the company to purchase legitimate credits to replace the ones it falsely claimed and sold, and pay the civil penalty of $2.7 million.
“The clean fuels program is one of the most effective ways that Oregon has right now for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and those are the primary causes of human-caused climate change,” Esteve said. “It’s a market-based program, and so the generation of these credits and the sale of them is what makes this program work. So we are very concerned about maintaining the integrity, and that’s one of the reasons why this fine is so large.”
Since its inception, the clean fuels program has reduced 7.6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to DEQ. That’s the equivalent of more than 1.6 million gas-powered vehicles driven for one year.
“The Clean Fuels Program has been highly successful, but selling fraudulent credits seriously undermines the program’s environmental benefits,” DEQ’s interim director Leah Feldon said in a statement. “This penalty is intended to encourage the violator to return legitimate credits to the market and should serve as a deterrent to anyone considering similar fraudulent behavior.”
Friday’s action is the largest fine DEQ has ever issued. Earlier this year, the agency issued a $2.1 million fine to a Portland roofing company, Herbert Malarkey Roofing Co., for air quality violations. In July, the agency and the company settled for $1.45 million. The Port of Morrow also received a hefty fine, $2.1 million, earlier this year for several wastewater violations that polluted the area’s groundwater.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from TTS Charging owner Merlin Thompson.