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Archive for the ‘Southern California’ Category

CASSANDRA SWEET, Dow Jones Newswires, November 20, 2009

California regulators have proposed approving a long-term contract between PG&E and Solaren, developers of a speculative technology that would beam 200 megawatts of solar power to earth from outer space.

Under the 15-year contract, Solaren Corp., of Manhattan Beach, Calif., would ship 850 gigawatt-hours of solar power a year starting in 2016, doubling that amount in later years. The power would be sent by radio frequency from an earth-orbiting satellite to a receiving station in Fresno, California. The energy-conversion technology has been used by communications satellites for 45 years on a much smaller scale, Solaren said.

PG&E wouldn’t disclose the cost of the proposed 15-year contract but said it would be above-market, more than 12.9 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to documents filed with the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC.

PG&E among other California utilities are required to use renewable sources for a fifth of the power they sell by 2010, ramping up to one-third of their retail power by 2020. The requirements are part of the state’s 2006 plan to combat climate change.

Because Solaren’s technology is untested, raising “concerns regarding the viability of the project,” PG&E can’t rely on the contract to comply with its renewable energy requirements until construction begins on the project and the CPUC gives additional approval, the agency said in a proposed decision.

The CPUC could make a decision as early as December 3, 2009.

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UCILLA WANG, The Greentech Innovations Report, June 9, 2009

sunpowerWhen Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced a deal to buy solar power from a proposed 230-megawatt project last Friday, it shone a spotlight on a two-year-old company with a different business model than many startups who have inked similar deals with the utility.

The deal also raised the question: Who is NextLight?

NextLight Renewable Power, based in San Francisco, wants to be purely a power plant developer and owner. The deal with PG&E is the first power purchase agreement for the startup, which is funded by private equity firm Energy Capital Partners, said Jim Woodruff, vice president of regulatory and government affairs, in an interview Monday.

“We think the tech agnostic approach is a winning business model,” Woodruff said. “All the core skills that are necessary to develop power projects are the same” for solar or other types of power plants.

The company boasts managers who have experience developing power plants and transmission projects as well as negotiating renewable power purchases.

NextLight’s CEO, Frank De Rosa, worked for PG&E for 23 years and held various roles at the utility, including the director of renewable energy supply, before founding NextLight in 2007. Woodruff worked for Southern California Edison for more than 10 years, first as an in-house counsel and later as the manager of regulatory and legislative issues for the utility’s alternative power business.

NextLight has been developing other solar power projects on public and private land in western states, including a plan to install up to 150 megawatts of generation capacity in Boulder City, Nevada.

The Boulder City Council is slated to vote on whether to lease 1,100 acres of city land to NextLight tonight. The company would sell 3,000-megawatt hours of energy per year to the city if the project is built, Woodruff said.

PG&E signed the deal with NextLight after it had inked many power purchase agreements in recent years to buy solar power from startup companies with the ambition to both develop their own technologies as well as owning and operating solar farms.

Some of the projects seem to be moving along. A few have hit snags. The deal to buy power from Finavera, an ocean power developer in Canada, fell apart last year when the California Public Utilities Commission decided that the contract would be too costly to ratepayers (see California Rejects PG&E Contract for Wave Energy).

OptiSolar, which was supposed to build a 550-megawatt solar farm to sell power to PG&E, couldn’t raise enough money to operate its solar panel factory and develop solar farms.

First Solar, another solar panel maker based in Tempe, Ariz., bought OptiSolar’s project development business for $400 million in April this year. First Solar would use its own, cadmium-telluride solar panels, instead of the amorphous silicon solar panels OptiSolar was developing. PG&E has said that the power contract would remain in place.

NextLight, on the other hand, would pick different solar technologies instead of developing its own. The approach isn’t new – SunEdison was doing this before others joined the party.

But there is no guarantee that this approach would enable NextLight to deliver energy more cheaply, and neither NextLight nor PG&E would discuss the financial terms of their contract.

“Our priority is about diversification of the resources we use and the companies we work with,” said PG&E spokeswoman Jennifer Zerwer. “Contracting for renewable via [power purchase agreements] is beneficial because it helps grow that ecosystem of renewable development, and there is no risk to our customers.”

Rumors have been circulating about whether NextLight would use SunPower’s equipment for the 230-megawatt project, which is called AV Solar Ranch 1, particularly since the project’s website features a photo of SunPower panels.

Woodruff said NextLight hasn’t selected a panel supplier. The company and PG&E have agreed to use solar panels, but the utility wouldn’t have a final say on the supplier, Woodruff added.

Gordon Johnson, head of alternative energy research at Hapoalim Securities, also cast doubt on the SunPower rumor.  “Based on our checks, we do not believe [SunPower] won the PPA with NextLight,” Johnson wrote in a research note.

NextLight plans to start construction of the AV Solar Ranch project in the third quarter of 2010 and complete it by 2013. The company said it would start delivering power in 2011.

The project would be located on 2,100 acres in Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County, Woodruff said. The company bought the property last year for an undisclosed sum.

The company would need approval from the Los Angeles County to construct the solar farm. The California Public Utilities Commission would need to approve the power purchase contract between PG&E and NextLight.

NextLight also is developing a power project with up to 425 megawatts in generation capacity in southern Arizona.  The company is negotiating to a farmland for the Agua Caliente Solar Project, Woodruff said. The 3,800 acres are located east of the city of Yuma.

The company is negotiating with a utility to buy power from Agua Caliente, said Woodruff, who declined to name the utility.

NextLight hasn’t decided whether to install solar panels or build a solar thermal power plant for the Agua Caliente project. Solar thermal power plants use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight for heating water or mineral oils to generate steam. The steam is then piped to run electricity-generating turbines.

But solar panels appear to be a more attractive option than solar thermal for now, Woodruff said.

“We’ve concluded that, in the near term, PV is more cost effective,” he said.

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JEFF QUACKENBUSH, North Bay Business Journal, October 6, 2008

Santa Rosa – Sonoma County governments have aggressive goals and strategies for curbing gases blamed for climate change, and they now have a new tool for enticing owners of existing commercial and residential structures into reducing emissions via energy-efficient upgrades.

Several North Bay local governments have put in place green-building standards to encourage or require green building practices and materials on new construction. Green-building standards are gelling in St. Helena, Napa and Napa County.

Yet cutting emissions attributed to existing homes and commercial buildings has been one of the biggest challenges toward the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. 

Assembly Bill 811, signed in July, gives cities and counties authority to create benefit assessment districts in which property owners can decide to “finance” energy upgrades. Owners would enter a “loan” contract with a local government and pay it back via an item on their property-tax bills that would be passed from one owner to the next over 10 or 20 years. It would be senior to any other debt.

Sonoma County is one of the first governments statewide to pursue such districts. 

Sustainable Napa County has been holding workshops with solar-energy vendors on innovative financing programs, and the group is in early talks with local lawmakers about implementing financing akin to the AB 811-like Berkeley First effort, according to program manager Sally Seymour.

Go Solar Marin early 2008 offered assistance for residential photovoltaic systems. The Marin Clean Energy community choice aggregation program for creating renewable-energy power stations and selling electricity to residents is in development.

Last September, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors opted to explore an AB 811 district. The concept will be tested with Sonoma County Water Agency efforts in the Airport Business Center business park near the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, along Eighth Street East near Sonoma and with homes around the community of Geyserville.

An Airport Green Business Community has formed to increase energy and water efficiency, and businesses representing about two-thirds of the business park’s square footage are participating. The effort is seen as a model for such parks nationwide. Highly treated recycled wastewater from a water agency plant in the park would be used for heating and cooling buildings – saving businesses up to half on utility rates – and irrigating landscapes.

The water agency is exploring a similar use of recycled wastewater from its Sonoma Valley plant for wine-related industrial operations along Eighth Street East and potentially in the Geyserville area from a small treatment plant there. 

One of the prime movers for the county’s AB 811 and other greenhouse gas-fighting efforts is water agency General Manager Randy Poole. The water agency committed to offsetting all carbon dioxide emissions connected to its operations by 2015. “If this program is successful this could be an economic stimulus package not only for the county but also for the country,” Mr. Poole said.

Sonoma County governments signed onto the Climate Action Campaign to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 25% below 1990 levels by 2015, 10 years sooner than the state’s goal under AB 32. Other municipalities in the county have expressed interest in joining the district, and airport-area businesses have too.

“We’re hoping that interest converts into dollars,” said county Auditor-Controller-Treasurer-Tax Collector Rod Dole. 

County government is moving methodically toward implementing AB 811 because costs to the cash-cautious county could be considerable to get the program started. For example, the city of Palm Desert, an AB 811 leader, has put $2.5 million in city money toward lowering interest rates for property owners to 7% from 8 % the county is paying for the financing.

Mr. Dole thinks the county may not have to dip into its coffers for initial projects. One possible source is bank lines of credit to local government, through which a bank would buy a note, say, for $4 million to cover 100 $40,000 private solar projects.

Average funding per project in Palm Desert for replacement of pool pumps and air-conditioners was $40,000. Mr. Dole anticipates similar per-project averages locally.

Another source would be issuance of private-active bonds after enough proposed projects are amassed. Mr. Dole estimates that $10 million to $15 million in total projects would be enough to spur that effort. In either case, the county would have to offer property owners financing at interest rates, with a margin to cover financing and administrative costs, comparable to home-equity or construction loans, according to Mr. Dole.

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MendoCoastCurrent, April 17, 2009

space-solar-energy-jj-001San Francisco — PG&E has begun exploring renewable energy from space as it seeks approval from California state regulators, the CPUC, to purchase power from Solaren Corporation offering 200 megawatts over 15 years.

Solaren’s technology uses solar panels in Earth orbit, converting the energy to radio frequency for transmission to an Earth-based receiving station. The received radio frequency is converted into electricity and fed into the power grid. 

Solaren envisions deploying a solar array into space to beam an average of 850 gigawatt hours the first year of the term and 1,700 gigawatts per year over the remaining term according to their filing to the CPUC.

A clear advantage of solar in space is efficiency. From space, solar energy is converted into radio frequency waves, which are then beamed to Earth. The conversion rate of the RF waves to electricity is in the area of 90%, said Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak, citing U.S. government research. The conversion rate for a typical Earth-bound nuclear or coal-fired plant, meanwhile, is in the area of 33%. And space solar arrays are also 8-10 times more efficient than terrestrial solar arrays as there’s no atmospheric or cloud interference, no loss of sun at night and no seasons.

So space solar energy is a baseload resource, as opposed to Earth-based intermittent sources of solar power. Spirnak claims that space real estate is still free although hard to reach. Solaren seeks only land only for an Earth-based energy receiving station and may locate the station near existing transmission lines, greatly reducing costs.

While the concept of space solar power makes sense on white boards, making it all work affordably is a major challenge. Solar energy from space have a long history of research to draw upon. The U.S. Department of Energy and NASA began seriously studying the concept of solar power satellites in the 1970s, followed by a major “fresh look” in the Clinton administration.

The closest comparison to the proposed Fresno, California deployment is DirecTV, the satellite TV provider, Spirnak explained. DirecTV sends TV signals down to earth on solar-powered RF waves. However, when they reach the Earth, the solar energy is wasted, he said, as all the receivers pick up is the TV programming. 

Solaren claims they’ll be working with citizen groups and government agencies to support the project’s development. Solaren is required to get  all necessary permits and approvals from federal, state and local agencies.

At onset, in exploring space solar energy as in exploring all nascent technologies, explorers shall have to show and prove their renewable technology safe.

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DANIEL B. WOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2009

Less than a month into his administration, President Obama is making good on campaign promises to move toward a comprehensive approach to US energy and to broaden environmental protections. The administration has moved over the past few weeks to undo many of Bush’s last-minute drilling and environmental decisions, including putting the brakes Tuesday on a plan to open up vast new areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling.

In swift succession, the Obama administration has:

  • Ordered the Environmental Protection Authority to reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles – if permitted, this would allow 13 more states to follow suit.
  • Abandoned a Bush administration legal appeal in a major air pollution case – signaling it will allow tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.
  • Canceled 77 Bush-era oil and gas leases over 100,000 acres of public land near national parks in Utah.
  • Announced an intent to develop an offshore energy plan that includes renewable resources, giving states and the federal government more time to study and assess the future of offshore energy planning.

“There’s clearly a new kid in town. The Obama administration is moving quicker on the environment than anything else,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. “They are concerned that untoward things are going to happen before they can get new policies in place, so they are trying to reverse old ones.”

In the most recent move to stall Bush policy, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the time period for public comment on a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing would be extended for another 180 days. He also ordered the US Geological Survey and the Minerals Management Service to develop an extensive profile of the nation’s resources offshore.

The plan, which was proposed by the Bush administration on its last day in office and published the day after President Obama took office, originally allowed 45 days for scoping and comment.

Describing the plan as “a headlong rush of the worst kind,” Mr. Salazar said that “Bush’s “midnight action” accelerated by two years the regular process for creating a new plan for the outer continental shelf.

“It opened up the possibility for oil and gas leasing along the entire Eastern Seaboard, portions of offshore California, and the far eastern Gulf of Mexico, with almost no consideration of state, industry, and community input and … with very limited information about the nature of offshore resources,” he said.

The new administration will look at offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy plan, he said. The changes are to “fulfill President Obama’s commitment to a government that is open and inclusive and makes decisions based on sound science and the public interest.”

“I intend to do what the Bush administration refused to do; build a framework for offshore renewable-energy development so that we incorporate the great potential for wind, wave, and ocean current energy into our offshore energy strategy.”

In a similar move last week, the Interior secretary announced that the Bureau of Land Management would withdraw drilling leases that were offered on 77 parcels of US public land near national parks in Utah. The leases, on land totaling 103, 225 acres, are under litigation in district court.

Development of oil and gas supplies was needed to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but it must be done in a “thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and culture resources,” said Salazar, adding that the BLM would return $6 million in bids from an auction last December.

Also last week, the Justice Department said it is withdrawing a US Supreme Court appeal filed by the Bush administration against a court ruling governing mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

The Obama administration has also told the EPA to reconsider denying California the power to regulate vehicular pollution. The Bush administration’s EPA in 2007 had denied California the waiver needed to authorize its special status under the Clean Air Act. That law gives California the authority to regulate vehicular pollution because the state began doing so before the federal government did.

Leading environmental groups, which were often at odds with Bush, are breathing a palpable sigh of relief. “We are encouraged by Obama’s announcement that he is going to restore order to a broken system and that is what this is,” says Kristina Johnson, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club.

“This five-year offshore drilling program that Bush tried to push through wasn’t based on sound science, and there was no public input,” she said. “It’s part of a new way of doing business. [The Obama administration understands] that the answer to America’s energy problems isn’t more drilling and that we need to be investing in clean energy.”

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ROB DAVIS, VoiceOfSanDiego.org, February 8, 2009

images1With California’s water supplies crimped and cuts on the way, the idea of a new water source in San Diego is making politicians salivate.

The seawater desalination plant proposed by Poseidon Resources Corp. is advertised as being able to tap into the Pacific Ocean, a drought-proof supply. Now the state sits in a drought. And with the project’s permitting nearly finished, state leaders are lining up in support — from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Linda Adams, the state’s environmental protection secretary.

Their message to the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the last agency to withhold needed permits: Enough already. Stop slowing down construction.

So the regional board, the local water pollution regulator, is being assailed from both proponents and opponents of the project. Environmental groups have sued the regional board for giving conditional approval to the desalination plant. And state leaders are flexing their political muscles, urging the board to go all the way.

“The political interest in this item is huge,” said John Robertus, the regional board’s executive officer. “And every day it doesn’t rain, it goes up a notch.”

The regional board in 2006 granted a necessary permit to Poseidon, which will allow it to discharge into the Pacific. But it came with conditions, including developing a specific plan for mitigating the plant’s impact on marine life. The agency’s staff proposes to continue withholding approval until Poseidon refines its mitigation plans. The discussion is scheduled Wednesday. Asked whether the agency is feeling political pressure, Robertus said: “Certainly. Water is about politics.”

The desalination plant has always had the region’s attention. But with mandatory water-use restrictions likely coming to Southern California this summer, the project has grabbed the attention of the governor and other state officials. The plant, which could begin operating in December 2011 at the earliest, would boost San Diego’s supply 10%. The project will set the precedent for other desalination efforts.

At least one will follow on the Carlsbad plant’s heels. Poseidon, a private Connecticut-based company, is seeking permits for a plant in Huntington Beach. But Carlsbad’s challenges were greater, and so it has pushed that project first. The regulatory examples set there will be followed in Huntington Beach and in any other seawater desalination plants.

“As goes Carlsbad, so goes the rest of the coast,” Robertus said. “This is a contentious issue. And it’s going to get more intense as we get closer to the date when they begin to pump water.”

At the center of the current debate is Poseidon’s plan to mitigate the plant’s impacts on marine life. It will suck in 304 million gallons of seawater daily and turn 50 million gallons into drinking water. The filtered-out salt will be diluted with the remaining 254 million gallons and sent back to the ocean.

The pumps that draw in that water will kill about two pounds of fish each day. (Poseidon says this is less than the daily consumption of an adult brown pelican). They’ll also squash 11 million to 16 million fish larvae daily — four billion to five billion annually.

State regulators are requiring Poseidon to mitigate that damage by restoring 37 acres of wetlands. The company estimates it would cost $10 million wherever it decides to repair damaged habitat and build a functioning ecosystem.

This hang-up has everyone’s attention. The regional board wants Poseidon to pick a specific site. Poseidon has identified 11 and says it will decide on a specific location later. Five are in San Diego County: the Tijuana River Valley, San Elijo Lagoon, San Dieguito River Valley, Agua Hedionda Lagoon and Buena Vista Lagoon. Others are in Orange, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

The company says picking a site now would require a lengthy environmental review and delay the plant’s construction. The company promises to choose a site and finish mitigation before the plant begins operating, Poseidon spokesman Scott Maloni said.

The environmental groups that have sued say Poseidon has the process backward. The company should not be able to get approval for building its project, they say, before completely identifying its mitigation plans.

“It’s not responsible for the agencies to approve a project without these questions being answered,” said Gabriel Solmer, legal director for San Diego Coastkeeper. “Just because Poseidon has said ‘We’ll do whatever it takes and we’ll find a place to do mitigation,’ that shouldn’t be sufficient. You should know where the mitigation is going to occur.”

As that debate continues, state leaders are interjecting their comments. The regional board has received letters urging approval from Schwarzenegger; Linda Adams; Mike Chrisman, the natural resources secretary; and A.G. Kawamura, the food and agriculture secretary. Donald Koch, director of the state Department of Fish and Game, wrote that mitigation plans were sufficient.

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Let Your Voice Be Heard by March 23, 2009

by MendoCoastCurrent and pointarenabasin

Beginning January 22, 2009 and ending on March 23, 2009, a 60-day Public Comment Period opened regarding new offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling in the pristine waters off northern California.

And while this is a multi-step process and before things are cast in stone, NOW is the time to share your views.

FROM THE FEDERAL REGISTER – REQUEST FOR PUBLIC COMMENTS

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR – Minerals Management Service

Request for Comments on the Draft Proposed 5-Year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 and Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Proposed 5-Year Program

AGENCY: Minerals Management Service, Interior.

ACTION: Request for Comments.

SUMMARY: The Minerals Management Service (MMS) requests comments on the Draft Proposed 5-year OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2010-2015 (DPP). This draft proposal is for a new oil and gas program to succeed the current program that is currently set to expire on June 30, 2012, and forms the basis for conducting the studies and analyses the Secretary will consider in making future decisions on what areas of the OCS to include in the program.

DATES: Please submit comments and information to the MMS no later than March 23, 2009.

LINK:  Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Under the tab “More Search Options,” click “Advanced Docket Search,” then select “Minerals Management Service” from the agency drop-down menu, then click the submit button. In the Docket ID column, select MMS-2008-OMM-0045 to submit public comments and to view related materials available for this Notice.

Mail or hand-carry comments to the Department of the Interior; Minerals Management Service; Attention: Leasing Division (LD); 381 Elden Street, MS-4010; Herndon, Virginia 20170-4817. Please reference “2010-2015 Oil and Gas Leasing in the Outer Continental Shelf,” in your comments and include your name and return address.

Summary of the Draft Proposed Program

In developing the DPP for 2010-2015, the MMS considered oil and gas leasing in the areas of the OCS that are included in the current 5-year program for 2007-2012 and additional areas off Alaska, Pacific coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic coast. Some of these additional areas had been subject to annual congressional moratoria prohibiting oil and gas leasing. However, the moratoria expired on September 30, 2008. The DPP includes lease sales in offshore areas that have the highest oil and gas resource values and highest industry interest.

It has been promoted that 47 comments from oil and gas companies or associations nominated specific planning areas to be included in the new 5-Year program; some nominated all planning area.  

Wave energy reporter Frank Hartzell claims that the nominations may have been fabricated, see In Last Days, Bush Inflicts North Coast Offshore Oil Plan.

Table A–Draft Proposed Program for 2010-2015–Lease Sale Schedule

———————————————————————

Sale Number Area Year

———————————————————————

236…………………… Northern California………..2014

Pacific Region

The Pacific Region consists of 4 planning areas–Washington-Oregon, Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. The DPP schedules one sale in the Northern California Planning Area and two in the Southern California Planning Area. The proposed sales are in areas of known hydrocarbon potential – the Point Arena Basin in Northern California.

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Preparation

Pursuant to section 102(2)(C) of NEPA, the MMS intends to prepare an EIS for the new 5-year OCS oil and gas leasing program for 2010-2015. This notice starts the formal scoping process for the EIS under 40 CFR 1501.7, and solicits information regarding issues and alternatives that should be evaluated in the EIS. The EIS will analyzethe potential impacts of the adoption of the proposed 5-year program.

The comments that MMS has received in response to the August 2008, Request for Comments, and the comments received during scoping for the 2007-2012 5-Year EIS have identified environmental issues and concerns that MMS will consider in the EIS. In summary, these include climate change as an impact factor in cumulative analyses, the effects of the OCS program on climate change, potential impacts from accidental oil spills, potential impacts to tourism and recreation activities, and ecological impacts from potential degradation of marine and coastal habitats. Additionally alternatives will be developed and analyzed during the EIS process based on scoping comments and governmental communications. Alternatives may include increasing or decreasing the number or frequency of sales, coastal buffers, limiting areas available for leasing, and excluding parts of or entire planning areas.

Scoping Meetings

Meetings will be held between now and March 23, 2009 to receive scoping comments on the EIS including –

Ft. Bragg/Ukiah, California; TBA

Next Steps in the Process

The MMS plans to issue the proposed program and draft EIS in mid-summer 2009 for a 90-day comment period and plans to issue the proposed final program and final EIS in spring 2010. The Secretary of the Interior may approve the new 5-year program 60 days later to go into effect as of July 1, 2010.

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