While fears about the reliability of power in Texas linger after the statewide freeze in February, a new law is set to go into effect soon to guard against national security threats to the state’s energy grid.
Pending the governor’s signature, Senate Bill (SB) 2116 will prohibit businesses from countries including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia from gaining access to critical infrastructure systems.
The legislation broadly covers communications and cybersecurity systems, the electric grid, hazardous waste treatment systems, and water treatment systems, but also targets the planned construction of a wind farm in West Texas by GH America, the subsidiary of the Chinese-based Guanghui Energy Company.
Critics say the project poses a national security risk because of the access it would provide to the state’s energy grid and because of its location.
The proposed Blue Hills Wind Farm in Val Verde County sits near both the Texas-Mexico border and Laughlin Air Force Base.
Last year, the issue was put into the spotlight after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) reportedly cleared GH America to move forward with the project, though lawmakers expressed concern about the potential national security risks.
Then the representative for the district that covers Val Verde County, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23), spoke out against the wind farm, cautioning that if the plan moves forward and GH America “becomes part of the power community, they will gain access to security industry alerts, private industry insights and national security threat assessments.”
After Hurd retired and Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX-23) was elected to the open seat, the new congressman likewise expressed concerns about the company and urged CFIUS to revisit their consideration of the national security concerns about the Blue Hills Wind Farm.
Hurd — alongside Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Reps. Ronny Jackson (R-TX-13), Pat Fallon (R-TX-04), and Jodey Arrington (R-TX-19) — have introduced legislation in Congress to prohibit businesses owned, controlled, or receiving subsidies from China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia from purchasing land near a U.S. military base.
“We need to protect our bases from foreign espionage on our own soil,” said Gonzales. “This means sounding the alarm on any type of suspicious activity in the areas surrounding our bases, especially real estate transactions from companies associated with the Chinese Communist Party.”
Similarly, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21) recently introduced legislation to prohibit members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from purchasing real estate in the United States.
While the proposals in Congress have yet to make their way through the legislative process, Sen. Donna Campbell’s (R-New Braunfels) SB 2116 is slated to become law as soon as it is signed by the governor since it received unanimous support in both chambers of the state legislature.
Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) sponsored Campbell’s bill in the House and he expressed concern about GH America’s project during a hearing earlier this year on his own similar bill.
“Not only would the Blue Hills Wind Farm be able to access our critical infrastructure, including ERCOT, but the wind farm would also feature wind turbines between 400 and 700 feet tall located less than 70 miles from the Laughlin Air Force Base,” said Parker. “The new wind turbines may block critical flight paths that are used for the testing and training of our fighter jet pilots at Laughlin.”
Several others appeared at the hearing to testify in favor of Parker’s proposal to halt the progress of the wind farm project, including Randy Nunns, the president of the Devils River Conservancy and a resident of Val Verde County.
Local environmentalists are opposed to the project not only because of the national security risks that it poses but also because they want to preserve the natural landscapes in the region.
“We have visited with the owner — he goes by Chairman Sun Guangxin — and his lieutenants as well, and tried to negotiate traditional uses of the land,” said Nunns.
Sun Guangxin, the founder of Guanghui Energy, is from Xinjiang — the region of China known for its recent internment camps for Uyghurs — and is said to be a former officer of the Chinese military.
Whether or not Sun still has close ties with the Chinese military, the CCP wields increasingly tighter control over Chinese-based businesses.
Patrick Jenevein, the CEO of an energy company that has conducted much business in China, testified in favor of Parker’s bill and pointed to the “military-civil fusion policy” that allows the Chinese military to “overtake technologies and even civilians.”
“Xi Jinping himself — the paramount leader in China, that’s how they describe him — chairs the top-level MCF or military-civil fusion committee in China, leaving no doubt that Mr. Sun will follow the Party’s objectives,” said Jenevein.
“Mr. Sun’s alternative will be to be disappeared as a fugitive to the PRC system. A series of PRC laws compel Chinese to relay information, including intellectual property and foreign countries’ military activities, to [CCP] authorities.”
However, Stephen Lindsey, who helped GH America work through the CFIUS process, said at the hearing that the company’s “intent is as a landowner to basically develop that property to the point of receiving regulatory approval to look at selling that asset to either a U.S. or a NATO-friendly company.”
But such intent did little to assuage the concerns of the potential threat.
“If Xi Jinping wants them to do something through this privately owned Chinese corporation in Texas, they don’t have a choice. We all know that,” said Nunns.
With the legislation expected to go into effect soon, elected officials hope that China’s potential grasp on Texas’ critical infrastructure through the business is cut off.