WASHINGTON—A proposed wind farm project in West Texas has become a potential national security issue due to its Chinese owner who has ties to the communist regime in Beijing and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), experts say.
A Chinese-owned company called GH America Investment Group since 2015 has bought 130,000 acres of land—an area the size of Tulsa, Oklahoma—in Val Verde County, Texas. The man behind the investment firm is Sun Guangxin, a businessman from Xinjiang, China, who is described as a “carpetbagger” by Chinese media with strong ties to the communist regime, The Epoch Times previously has reported.
Sun, a former PLA officer, is currently the richest person in the western Xinjiang region, with a net worth of $1.9 billion, according to Forbes. He was also the vice chairman of the Xinjiang Provincial Youth Federation.
Sun’s investment company acquired the land to build wind farms, with a proposal to install 50 to 130 wind turbines.
A CFIUS panel chaired by the Treasury Department reviewed the acquisition and found that the wind farm didn’t pose a national security threat. However, an expert familiar with the project in Texas told The Epoch Times that there are a number of potential national security concerns about the Chinese control over the land.
The first concern is that the wind farm will be generating electricity, hence, it involves critical infrastructure and poses a risk to the Texas electric grid. Potential cyberattacks on the electrical grid could disrupt power utility operations, resulting in large-scale power outages.
A power grid attack that happened in March 2019 in the Western United States, for example, disrupted California, Utah, and Wyoming electrical utility systems for several hours. The U.S. Department of Energy found that “electric utilities throughout the United States have seen a steady rise in cyber and physical security-related events that continue to raise concern.”
In addition, allowing a Chinese company to connect to the U.S. power grid raises serious cybersecurity concerns. Outgoing Republican Rep. Will Hurd of Texas has repeatedly warned about the project, urging the government to “prevent foreign cyberattacks on Texas energy infrastructure.”
In an op-ed in July, Hurd complained that “the federal government is not moving fast enough to prevent it, and the state government lacks the power to stop it.
“Allowing an adversary to connect to our power grid enables the attacker to perform a false data injection attack—where the attacker spoofs the system’s monitoring tools to falsely think activity is happening on the grid,” he wrote.
On May 1, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to address such “malicious” cyberattacks on the U.S. bulk-power system.
He highlighted risks, stating that “a successful attack on our bulk-power system would present significant risks to our economy, human health and safety, and would render the United States less capable of acting in defense of itself and its allies.”
About 95 percent of land in Texas is privately owned; private ownership combined with loose regulations in the state makes property purchases easier for foreign buyers.
In Texas, there’s also a high bar for authorities to interfere with the development of wind farms due to a bill on electric utility restructuring signed into law in 1999 by then-Gov. George W. Bush, which mandates the development of renewable electric power generation.
The planned wind farm is situated within 30 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, and also is in close proximity to Laughlin Air Force Base, the Air Force’s largest pilot training facility, which could pose several issues, according to national security experts. These issues include cybersecurity threats against flight training, collecting intelligence on flight patterns and pilots, as well as electronic surveillance of the Mexican border.
“Sun reportedly overpaid for the land in Val Verde County and Blue Hills Wind appears to be his only renewable energy project in the U.S.,” Daniel Hoffman, a former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in an op-ed on Fox News.
“Aside from gathering intelligence on U.S. border security operations and plugging into Texas’s critical infrastructure, including its electrical grid, China could use Sun’s wind farm venture as cover to collect intelligence on nearby Laughlin Air Force Base, which is the Air Force’s premier training facility and graduates hundreds of pilots per year,” he wrote.
Texas lawmakers, military officials, local leaders, and activists have been tracking this case for the past two years.
GH America Energy has purchased 10 ranches in Val Verde County since 2015. Sun has claimed one of the large ranches, formerly called the Morning Star Ranch, for his personal use, San Antonio Express-News reported in June.
“It has a high fence, a large hunting lodge, and jet runway, and he reportedly visits periodically,” the report stated.
A Moody’s Investors Service report dated Nov. 4 showed that 40.9 percent of GH America’s parent company Guanghui Group, which is controlled by Sun, will be acquired by Shenergy, a state-owned enterprise owned by the Shanghai government.
“If the acquisition is completed, Shenergy will become the second-largest shareholder of Guanghui,” the report stated.
In July, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), along with Hurd, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ringing alarm bells about the project.
Lawmakers requested a classified briefing to address the national security concerns.