Spanish renewables developer Greenalia has acquired the 303-MW Blue Hills wind farm development in Val Verde County, Texas, a controversial project that led the US state to create a law to squeeze out the previous owner, a Chinese national.
The firm bought the project and the land it sits on, Greenalia’s public relations officer Alicia Quinta said in an emailed statement to Renewables Now.
For Greenalia, the transaction is nothing more than a move to expand its operations in the US. The company has already accumulated close to 1.7 GW of solar and 385 MW of battery storage projects since arriving in the country in 2020. All of these projects are in Texas.
Before Greenalia came to take over Blue Hills, the wind project ruffled the feathers of more than just birds that would collide with its proposed 46 turbines.
Both the project and the land site were until recently owned by Sun Guangxin, a businessman who built a diversified conglomerate in China’s Xinjiang region with interests in the energy, mining, real estate and automotive sectors. In the years since 2016, Sun, through US subsidiaries, purchased around 140,000 acres of land in Val Verde to use some of it for recreational purposes and 15,000 acres for the wind farm development, journalist John Hyatt wrote in his detailed investigative piece for Forbes in August 2021.
Among the first to raise concerns about the Blue Hills wind project was a local environmentalist group, the Devils River Conservancy, which launched a campaign to alert about the damage that its construction would create to the area’s pristine ecosystem.
“Val Verde County has a robust ecotourism industry and we would like to maintain that,” Randy Nunns, a founding member and former board president at the Devils River Conservancy, told Renewables Now.
After the group tried and failed to spread its environmentalist message, it shifted the focus to the project’s billionaire owner from China and his intentions to connect to the state’s power infrastructure, according to Hyatt’s report.
The new Blue Hills narrative reached farther as it highlighted Sun’s connections to China’s Communist Party, the proximity of the project to the Laughlin Air Force Base and some speculation about the harm that a Chinese-owned wind farm could do to the Texas power grid once it is plugged into it, Hyatt wrote.
Now reframed as a potential threat to national security, the wind project gained new and more powerful opponents within Texas, among them state lawmakers. The legislators reacted by passing the Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act, which went into effect in June 2021. The law prohibits Texans from entering into contracts with companies owned or controlled by citizens from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, if such companies, under the contract, would be able to directly or remotely access or control critical infrastructure in Texas. The power grid is one of the pieces of infrastructure considered critical under the new law.
Despite clearing several federal regulatory hurdles, including an agreement with the US Department of Defense due to the nearby air base, Sun’s wind farm project was going nowhere as long as a company associated with him was handling it.
According to Randy Nunns, Sun tried to offload Blue Hills to US firm Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises Inc (NYSE:BW) but failed. Nunns also said that Sun’s US subsidiary had two solar projects alongside Blue Hills in the queue with Texas’ grid operator ERCOT. One of them, Blue Valley, went to Diode Ventures LLC, a Black & Veatch company. A deal to sell the Blue Star solar project never reached close, Nunns said.
Greenalia announced its involvement in the Blue Hills project in a press release on November 17, without mentioning any of its complicated history nor naming the previous owner. The company, being 100% Spanish-owned, can now move forward with it without the new Texas law standing in the way.
In her statement to Renewables Now, Quinta said: “We are aware of the law, and we understand that as a Spanish company, the project can be developed.”
On environmental concerns still pending after the Chinese businessman was ousted, she said: "[T]he project we have contemplates all the necessary measures to be compatible with the environment. We are a renewable energy company, and we have a strong commitment to the territory, biodiversity, and ecosystems".
Greenalia expects to start construction of the wind farm in late 2023-early 2024.
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