Protecting the Grid From Blackouts—and Communism

May 3, 2021 Updated: May 9, 2021

Commentary

You’d think the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would know better than to mess with Texas. But a planned wind turbine facility in West Texas owned by a Chinese entity with links to the CCP exposes just how vulnerable our electric grid is to national and cybersecurity threats.

Legislation filed in Texas to ban power plants owned by hostile nations offers a model other states should follow to protect our electric grids not just from blackouts, but from a sea of red.

Let’s start with the facts. The Xinjiang Guanghui Industry Investment Group, a conglomerate run by a member of the CCP, purchased 140,000 acres of land in the Devil’s River area of Val Verde County, Texas, along the Mexican border. The company’s U.S.-based subsidiary plans to install more than 40 wind turbines there, a move that even pro-renewable groups such as the Sierra Club oppose.

The really uncomfortable part? The Chinese regime has nearly unfettered access to company information. Chinese companies operate under draconian national security laws that require them to hand over everything from customer data to encryption keys. One analyst described it this way, “The information that Chinese agents once had to steal through cyberattacks are now automatically provided for the ‘privilege’ of doing business there.”

The U.S. military has already discovered the chilling consequences of intentional vulnerabilities created in Lenovo servers to comply with Chinese law—vulnerabilities that nearly let Navy destroyer fleets and ballistic missiles fall into enemy hackers’ hands. The Devil’s River wind farm, incidentally, is also a stone’s throw from Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio.

It’s difficult to overstate the threat of a foreign nation infiltrating our grid. Given access to the grid, hackers could not only “spoof” the grid and trick operators into thinking more power is available than there actually is, they would also be privy to sensitive intelligence on grid protocols, including threat response. It would be all too easy for a bad actor to not just bring down the grid, but also to collude with other nations to strike once our vulnerabilities have been exposed.

The chaos that Texans experienced just weeks ago when blackouts left 4 million people in the cold and dark with many roads undrivable—forcing them to spend all their time and mental energy on the bare necessities such as food, water, and warmth—would pale in comparison to a coordinated attack.

While most emergency facilities have backup generators, even these aren’t foolproof and only work for short periods of time, as long as diesel or propane is available to fuel them. A coordinated attack, with blackouts lasting for more than a few days, could bring down our law enforcement operations, military bases, hospitals, banks, and more—not to mention the servers and data centers they depend on.

Without electricity, we’re shockingly vulnerable. That’s why other states should follow Texas’s footsteps and protect the grid not just from blackouts, but from enemy intrusion.

The Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act seeks to prohibit companies from China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, or any other countries the governor designates as a significant threat from connecting to Texas’s electric grid, water treatment facilities, communications systems, critical cyberinfrastructure, or chemical facilities. This bill, which is currently being considered in committee, will prevent rogue nations from accessing confidential grid operation information and add a layer of much-needed protection to our electric grid.

In the privileged West, we’ve gotten complacent. We’ve forgotten just how profoundly electricity (and the technology it powers) improves our lives. From the basics such as clean running water to warmth and productivity, electricity is the dividing line between poverty and flourishing—and essential to our physical and national security. It should be common sense that we protect it from attack.

The Honorable Jason Isaac is director of Life:Powered, a national initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation to raise America’s energy IQ. He previously served four terms in the Texas House of Representatives.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.