TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As the U.S. grapples with how best to respond to cyberattacks from state actors, Texas is moving forward with a bill designed to prevent adversarial nations from getting a purchase on the state’s infrastructure.
The Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act, put forward by Texas State Senator Donna Campbell, was passed by unanimous vote in the Texas Senate on Monday (April 26). If the bill passes in the state's House of Representatives and is signed into law by the governor, it will take effect on Sept. 1.
The aim of the bill is to prevent ownership of Texas infrastructure projects by individuals or entities connected to Russia, China, North Korea, or Iran. Ownership attempts by other countries deemed a threat by the governor can also be denied, in consultation with the Department of Public Safety.
The proximate cause of the legislation is the proposed construction of the Blue Hills Wind Farm in Val Verde County, Texas, 16 kilometers from the Mexican border and 48 km from Laughlin Air Force Base, the largest employer in the county and a critical U.S. Air Force training location. In addition to issues of potential flight interference and environmental concerns, the project has come under attack for its peculiar ownership structure.
In 2018, the land for the wind farm was purchased by Brazos Highland Properties LP, a holding company belonging to the China-based Guanghui Energy Company. It runs the wind farm project under its American subsidiary GH America Energy.
Guanghui Energy Company was founded in 1999 by Sun Guangxin (孫廣信), a former People’s Liberation Army officer who participated in China’s 1979 invasion of Vietnam. Sun is the largest landowner in China’s Xinjiang and the richest man in the province. His ownership of the wind farm has drawn concern from U.S. activists and lawmakers.
“Should another foreign-owned entity be able to put power on the grid, which means they’re controlling some of that power right now?” Texas Representative Will Hurd, a former CIA officer, told Foreign Policy. “Would they be able to manipulate the industrial control systems on their side? Obviously, because they would own that.”
The wind farm is also unusual in that its turbines would stand at 213 meters, the tallest in the country. The average height of a wind farm turbine in the United States is 85 m, according to U.S. government statistics. Critics of the project such as Hayman Capital CIO Kyle Bass, who testified during hearings for the bill, say the extraordinary size of the Blue Hills turbines could serve other purposes.
“The proximity of 700-ft tall wind turbines will allow the Chinese army to perform clandestine surveillance and collection of extremely sensitive information about our pilots, our base, their flight training, our planes, and even our electrical grid,” Bass wrote on Twitter.
Under the Trump administration, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States ruled the project did not pose a threat to national security. However, proponents of the bill in the Texas legislature are hoping there is still time to halt the project, as construction has not yet begun.
“While it’s not retroactive, they haven’t built the wind turbines yet… we’re going to push [the bill] through to make it effective as soon as we can,” State Senator Campbell told U.S. media in an interview.