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When SunEdison went through difficult layoffs in October 2015, hundreds were let go -- but the folks in the C-suite were mostly left unscathed. As GTM's Stephen Lacey reported, "The cuts have reached all the way to the VP level, but not the executive level. Sources within the company expressed worry and surprise that the cuts didn't impact the architects of the Vivint acquisition." The other shoe has started to drop. Oaktree acquired asset management, operations and maintenance firm Solarrus and named Mark McLanahan as CEO. He was formerly VP of global services at SunEdison. Northern States Metals, a maker of extruded aluminum products and owner of Solar FlexRack, a ground-mount solar racking system supplier, named Jeff Gwinnell as CEO. Gwinnell was most recently CEO of Avtron, a manufacturer of engineered equipment and components. Gwinnell replaces Tom Meola, who resigned from the company after four years as CEO. Solar FlexRack has completed more than 1 gigawatt worth of solar racking installations. CLEAResult, a 3,000-employee firm that designs and implements energy-efficiency programs for utilities, named Aziz Virani as its new CEO. Virani joins the company from Avanade, a technology consultancy. Prior to Avanade, Virani was a partner at Accenture. Co-founder and interim CEO Jim Stimmel will return to the executive VP position and remain on the board. CLEAResult is part of equity firm General Atlantic's portfolio. Robert Scheuermann, SoCore Energy’s interim president and CFO, was officially named full-time president of the C&I solar developer. SoCore Energy is a subsidiary of Edison International Chris Beitel is now COO of battery-based energy storage firm SimpliPhi Power. Previously, Beitel was executive VP of global operations and planning at Silevo, playing a role in its $350 million acquisition by SolarCity. The company's battery technology uses a lithium-ferrous-phosphate chemistry. Tom Werthan was named CFO at Phononic, a solid-state cooling and heating technology startup. Previously, Werthan was CFO at Solid State Equipment, a semiconductor capital equipment firm sold to Veeco in 2014. The near-term applications for Phononic's thermoelectrics include high-end refrigeration for labs and medical facilities, as well as cooling for fiber optics and data servers. Phononic has raised more than $85 million in funding from investors including Eastwood Capital, Wellcome Trust, Tsing Capital, Venrock, Oak Investment Partners, and Rex Health Ventures. Jacqueline DeRosa was promoted to VP of emerging technologies at Customized Energy Solutions, a consultancy and energy market specialist. CES recently acquired the assets of demand-response startup Powerit. Sighten, a solar software provider, added Vivek Malipatil, previously with Verengo Solar, as VP of strategy and operations, and Mariya Nomanbhoy, previously with CPF, as VP of product. Sighten landed a $3.5 million round A of venture funding from Obvious Ventures late last year for its platform to drive down solar's soft costs. Karen Gados was promoted to chief of staff at SunShare Community Solar, a developer of community solar programs. Enertech Search Partners, an executive search firm with a dedicated cleantech practice, is the sponsor of the GTM jobs column. The firm has an active opening for a CFO: The client is an intelligent distributed energy storage system that captures solar power and delivers it when needed most. It combines batteries, power electronics, and multiple energy inputs in a UL-certified appliance controlled by software running in the cloud. The client is seeking a chief financial officer who will report directly to the CEO and will be responsible for all financial aspects of the company. In this role, you will provide guidance and support on financial and business matters, as well as growth strategy, business systems, human resources and financial and treasury issues. This role will also serve as the leader of a three-person team that includes the controller and the director of financial planning and administration. Premier Solar Solutions, a small solar sales and installation company based in Henderson, Nevada, eliminated 66 full-time positions. The move follows the decision by the state's PUC to eliminate solar savings for new and current solar customers, according to a release, which added, "Premier Solar Solutions is a family-owned and operated solar sales and installation company formerly based in Nevada." Tesla is delivering far fewer jobs than it promised for the Gigafactory. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is back to the grind this week, after a two-month paternity leave, according to website StrictlyVC. Isabelle Kocher was named CEO of French energy giant Engie (the former GDF Suez), becoming the first woman to head a Paris CAC 40 stock index firm (one of the 40 largest publicly held firms in the country), as reported in The Wall Street Journal.

The rooftop solar company SolarCity said Wednesday it has been forced to eliminate more than 550 jobs in Nevada because of the new net metering rate approved by the state Public Utilities Commission on Dec. 22. Where possible, the company said it will relocate affected employees to "business-friendly" states. The PUC's decision to change the net metering rules "to punish existing solar customers after the state encouraged them to go solar with rebates is particularly callous" and leaves Nevadans to question whether the state would ever place the financial security of regular citizens above the financial interests of NV Energy, the company said in a news release. Cyclical changes in the Pacific Ocean have thrown Earth’s surface into what may be an unprecedented warming spurt, following a global warming slowdown that lasted about 15 years. While El Niño is being blamed for an outbreak of floods, storms and unseasonable temperatures across the planet, a much slower-moving cycle of the Pacific Ocean has also been playing a role in record-breaking warmth. The recent effects of both ocean cycles are being amplified by climate change. A 2014 flip was detected in the sluggish and elusive ocean cycle known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO, which also goes by other names, including the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Despite uncertainty about the fundamental nature of the PDO, leading scientists link its 2014 phase change to a rapid rise in global surface temperatures. InsideClimate News: Politics of Climate Unlikely to Change in 2016 In 2016, Americans will go to the polls to elect a new president, 34 senators, 435 representatives and 12 governors, not to mention countless state and local leaders. And despite this happening during what many scientists believe will be the hottest year on record and the stakes for the planet growing ever higher, climate change won't crack the list of top political issues. "Climate change, barring some enormous visible catastrophe on U.S. soil, is unlikely to be a major issue in the election," said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. "But many people will be working to raise its profile, and there will be more discussion than there was before." Until a few years ago, solar panels were a rare sight in South Africa, largely limited to the roofs of a few affluent households. This is changing rapidly, driven by three factors: the worldwide drive toward renewable energy, a highly strained local electricity supply, and a steady drop in solar panel prices. Taking the lead from other countries, South Africa committed to an energy generation infrastructure development plan for 2010 to 2030, known as the Integrated Resource Plan. Under the plan, the country aims to achieve 9,600 MW of solar power capacity by 2030. When the plan was drawn up in 2010, solar was limited to a few isolated panels on domestic rooftops, and until recently contributed nothing to the national power grid operated by the state-owned utility Eskom. The Hill: EPA Looks to Build on Big Wins This Year The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Monday that the Obama administration is preparing to roll out and implement new climate rules this year after pushing an aggressive agenda in 2015. In a blog post on the EPA website, administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency will look in 2016 to help implement the goals of the landmark international climate agreement reached in Paris last month. The agency will finalize rules this year to cut carbon pollution from heavy-duty vehicles, she wrote, as well as a rule to limit methane leaks from oil and gas operations. The methane rule -- which targets a pollutant with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide -- is seen as a major step President Obama can take to address climate change in his final year in office.

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Last year, thanks to the removal of a tree in my front yard and the confluence of low-cost solar technology and generous state incentives, I put solar on my roof and generated 4 megawatt-hours in my first year as a solar power plant owner. Everything performed as advertised: the 5.5-kilowatt SunPower system quickly cut my electric bill to $0, then generated a negative balance for most of the summer and fall. December came with a small bill (~$18), but also brought the news from my SREC broker (Knollwood Energy) that SRECs in Massachusetts are trading at $270 per megawatt-hour, so I stood to gain another $1,000 from the system. The 2.99 percent loan I have with EnerBank has a payment of around $189 per month, so if you combine the electric-bill savings with the income from the SRECs, I’m cash flow positive in year 1. But, as we’ve covered extensively over the past few weeks here, regulators in Nevada made the unprecedented and alarming decision not only to reform their net-metering program -- reducing compensation for exported power coupled with increases in monthly fixed charges -- but also to apply the reforms to all existing solar customers in a phased approach over four years. If regulators in Massachusetts made that same decision today, how would my investment in solar fare over the next 20 years? It’s worth taking a step back before digging into numbers, because it’s not clear to me how often people think of going solar as a purely economic undertaking. Solar, unlike other home repairs or remodels, feels different, wrapped as it should be in broader impulses to address climate change, energy independence, and overall energy resilience. In that context, the conversation with a solar installer tends toward one that for me felt more trusting (they sell solar, so they must be on my side). With that sense of trust, and the admittedly unfair access to a group of industry-leading market and technology solar analysts here at GTM Research, I went about selecting a solar system with confidence that I would make the right choice, from financing to vendor and installer selection. I honestly never considered that the assumptions around the incentives I would receive might change. I enlisted the help of EnergySage, a startup near our office in Boston that provides a platform to compare multiple bids from solar installers and attempt to normalize the assumptions behind those bids so I could make the most informed decision. Over the course of spring 2015, I uploaded all my power bills to the EnergySage platform, filled out all the other information required to receive bids, and within two weeks had about a half dozen. I had already chosen not to lease (I still don’t quite understand why anyone does) so my bids all included the option to pay outright or take out a loan to finance the installation. Throughout the process of reviewing bids, there were many elements of each proposal I needed help understanding (SREC price variability, power production and electric rate increase assumptions, and just what the difference between a DC optimizer and microinverter is), but I certainly understood how the ITC, a state rebate and tax credit, and net metering worked. I knew SREC prices were variable over 10 years, but also that Massachusetts had designed its system well enough to manage that within an acceptable window. If, in this thought experiment, the Nevada PUC picked up, came to Massachusetts and passed its solar tariff structure here today, what would happen to my electricity bill? For my system (a SunPower/SolarEdge system purchased in May 2015 at a net cost of around $21,000, which includes the ITC tax benefit and a Massachusetts state rebate), the original benefits of going solar looked like this: With the Nevada plan, my experience would look like this: Jumping out to year 5 -- let’s assume my system produces 6,295 kilowatt-hours of solar energy annually and half of it is exported back to the grid and compensated at wholesale rates. Instead of saving $1,346 on the electricity bills as planned, I would save $863 ($674 from load reduction plus $189 for my exported power). Add in annual SREC income of $1,200, and I would have a gross benefit of $2,063.  Subtract my annual cost of the solar loan ($2,156) and the new fixed charges ($300) and I have a negative cash flow. Continue to draw the model out, and I have negative cash flow every year until year 13. If you look at this through the lens of payback on my investment, I don’t reach that until year 19. This is arguably too generous because 1) we have SRECs in Mass, 2) we have higher wholesale rates, and 3) I kept the fixed charges at $300 per year, whereas in Nevada they increase well beyond that over time. To summarize: my system today is cash flow positive in year 1, and the payback occurs in year 3 if SREC prices remain over $200 per megawatt-hour. If the Nevada PUC came to town, I would have to wait 20 years to break even. I would be 70 years old! Forget it; by then, I’ve moved. As a homeowner, I took on risk when signing a mortgage for my house at its particular price and interest rate, exposing myself to market fluctuations, tax increases, unforeseen repairs and more. Those were all fairly well-understood risks with precedents and experience. With my solar system, however, I took risks I understood (SREC variability) as well as those I didn’t (retail rate escalation, service obligations) and placed my trust in the ecosystem of suppliers, installers, the utility and its regulators. This trust is critical for any market to mature, for people on the sidelines to step in and continue to fuel its growth. In the case of Nevada, that trust has clearly been broken. If other states regard Nevada’s moves as precedent, this becomes much more than a thought experiment for me, but a chilling signal to anyone owning or considering owning rooftop solar. The U.S. residential solar market, which has been celebrating the extension of the ITC, would find itself unfairly hobbled just at the time of its most impressive growth.

To drive out solar power companies out of sunny Nevada, you have to do something pretty bad. This is exactly what happened while most of us weren't paying attention, enjoying the holidays (or stressing out, depending...). The Nevada Public Utility Commission (PUC) changed its rules surrounding net metering and increased fees charged to the owners of solar systems (who said the sun was free?): "The base service charge is rising from $12.75 to $17.90 per month [a 40% increase] for southern Nevada solar customers and from $15.25 to $21.09 [a 38.2% increase] for northern Nevada customers. The changes also reduce the amount the utility pays to buy power back from rooftop solar panels, from 11 cents a kilowatt hour to 9 cents [an 18.2% decrease] in southern Nevada and from 12 cents to 10.5 cents [a 12.5% decrease] in the north. The service charge will rise and the reimbursement will drop every year until 2020." (source) This might not seem like much until you do the math and realize that these changes would negate the savings on many solar customers' utility bills. For example, if you are thinking about getting a solar system that would save you $40/month, you might not go solar if the new rules reduce net-metering returns and increase fees by more than $40/month. Some people might still do it just to have clean power, but a lot of people just won't... This is a big enough deal for solar installers that SolarCity has already said that it would halt operations in Nevada because of it, and Vivint Solar, another large solar installer, is considering doing the same. "This is a very difficult decision, but Gov. Sandoval and his PUC leave us no choice," Lyndon Rive, SolarCity's chief executive, said in a statement. "The people of Nevada have consistently chosen solar, but yesterday their state government decided to end customer choice, damage the state's economy and jeopardize thousands of jobs." (SolarCity says that it has created 2,000 jobs in the state since 2013.) The accusation is that this new plan is designed to protect the existing power utility from the new solar entrants, which are growing rapidly and threaten profits. There is some hope, though. The regulators are meeting on Thursday this week to consider pausing the rate hike, which was supposed to take effect on January 1st, 2016. Several entities requested the rates be postponed, including the Bureau of Consumer Protection within the Nevada Attorney General's Office. Consumer advocate Eric Witkoski said existing customers weren't properly warned that they would be subject to the new rates, instead of being "grandfathered" in to the more favorable ones. He also raised concerns that the rate change could run afoul of the contracts clause in the U.S. Constitution, because the changes are dramatic enough that they could disrupt private contracts homeowners have with rooftop solar companies. (source) Ideally, these changes would be scrapped and a more solar-friendly strategy would be devise in a more transparent way. Someday incentives for solar power will have to be removed, but this is too soon, and this isn't the way to do it. The social and environmental benefits of our civilization transitioning to clean energy should be taken into account when taking these types of decisions. We can't just change things around looking at short term impacts, especially after we spend decades giving direct and indirect help to the fossil fuel industry.

In 2014, Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) published a study on the economic impacts of net metering in Nevada and found there to be an estimated $36 million benefit to non-solar ratepayers over the lifetime of all rooftop solar systems installed between 2004 and 2016. But in Nevada, E3’s calculus has changed. Last week, the research group published an update to its 2014 report that found that Nevada’s roughly 30,000 existing rooftop solar systems shift $36 million in costs onto non-solar customers each year. When E3 entered new inputs, the $36 million in benefits (coincidentally the same number as the annual costs) disappeared. The findings add to a contentious debate over rooftop solar in Nevada, stemming from a new tariff that increased fixed charges, lowered the variable energy rate and reduced the credit for excess energy for both new and existing rooftop solar customers. The policy changes were approved in December 2015 and came into effect on January 1. Sunrun and SolarCity pulled out of the state shortly after and several other solar companies have had to lay off staff as the Nevada rooftop solar market has come to a standstill. There has been strong pushback against the new rate and various attempts to undo the changes. Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus and Senator James Settelmeyer commissioned the new E3 study to “provide a foundation as we continue the discussion of ensuring that all customers benefiting from the electric grid are paying appropriately,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN). Regulators opened a new information docket for the report last week (16-08031). The cost shift described in the study could undermine efforts to reinstate favored rooftop solar rates. Thomas Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), wrote in The Huffington Post this week that the numbers in E3’s latest analysis “just don’t add up.” “While E3’s first study was consistent with other studies in showing solar’s value to the community, the latest version insults the intelligence of Nevadan readers,” he wrote. So what changed in E3’s analysis? Accounting for lower costs of utility-scale solar resources was the primary reason why E3’s results were different from two years ago. In 2014, utility-scale renewable resources cost $100 per megawatt-hour. In 2016, they cost $36 per megawatt-hour. The new data decreased the “RPS value” benefit in E3’s model by 95 percent, which made self-generated electricity relatively less economic, according to the report. Falling natural-gas prices were another factor. Lower costs decreased the value for avoided cost of energy by approximately 50 percent, further hurting the case for self-generated electricity. “Markets change all the time, whether it’s the cost of natural gas or whether it’s the cost of solar,” said Zachary Ming, senior consultant at E3 and author of the new report. “If the results of a study are based on market data that existed at the time the study was published…and if that data changes, conclusions also need to change.” While the study results are intended to inform net metering discussions in Nevada, the study scope went beyond NEM to account for all Nevada-specific policies that enable distributed solar, including NV Energy’s RenewableGenerations incentive. Generation from these incentivized systems can be counted toward Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard. So for existing systems, $20 million of the $36 million per year cost shift actually represents sunk costs that have already been spent on solar incentives. The remaining roughly $15 million represents the annual cost shift attributable specifically to net metering; thus it would create a cost-shift of $15 million per year to grandfather Nevada’s existing rooftop solar customers onto the old rate structure. These results are similar to the PUCN’s own analysis that found there is a $16 million annual cost shift between solar and non-solar customers. If Nevada’s existing 265 megawatts of rooftop solar were hypothetically to double, E3 found it would cost-shift an additional $15 million per year. Taking the analysis further, E3 calculated that Nevada’s net-metered rooftop solar customers also lose money on the state’s distributed solar policies. According to the report, Nevada’s roughly 30,000 existing rooftop solar customers are actually paying an additional $10 million per year to have solar on their roofs. “In other words, the cost of installing the solar system is more than what they’re getting paid in incentives and NEM bill credits,” said Ming. A key point is that E3's solar cost calculation factors in the availability of incentives other than NEM, like the RenewablesGeneration program. Furthermore, the inputs are very location-specific. The Nevada finding doesn’t mean that rooftop solar doesn’t benefit rooftop solar customers elsewhere, said Ming, it all depends on the rate level. In Nevada, residential rates are about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour. In California, where there are tiered rates, some customers pay up to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Because solar customers in California are getting bill credits up to three times larger than those on offer in Nevada, almost every rooftop system is cost-effective, Ming said. But while solar customers in California see a net benefit, E3 recently published a separate model that estimated California’s net metering policy could cost shift $3 billion to $5 billion per year by 2025. A cost shift in the billions may seem extreme, but Ming noted that the costs are all about preferences and perception. In Nevada, whether or not a $36 million cost shift is considered extreme is relative, he said. “It’s about 1.2 percent of revenue requirements that means rates would increase 1.2 percent,” he said. “So if the electricity rate is 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (Nevada’s is 11.40 cents), we’re talking about an increase of about .12 cents per kilowatt-hour. So whether it’s significant or not is all in the eye of the beholder.” The additional cost per kilowatt-hour is even lower given that much of the cost shift has already been spent through incentive payments. E3 estimates the incremental cost of grandfathering existing systems on the old NEM rates would cause a rate increase of just 0.5 percent. Whether or not an increase is tolerable is a political question, not a research one, said Ming. In places where studies show solar is a net cost, decision-makers may well decide to pay more for the technology in the near term because it supports their community’s climate objectives or employment goals, or simply has strong consumer demand. “I think the argument [that distributed solar costs more, but is still worth it] is a much more nuanced and accurate [argument] in favor of keeping net metering, as opposed to stating outright that today net metering provides a net benefit,” Ming said. Rooftop solar advocates have long been lobbying for state regulators to consider benefits as well costs when evaluating policies that affect the economics of solar. This is particularly relevant to debates on net energy metering, where the credit has a tangible cost, but that cost ignores all of the benefits rooftop gives back to the electrical grid and society at large. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) recently came out with a draft manual on how to compensate distributed energy resources, including rooftop solar, that identified cost-benefit studies as the most neutral way to regulate. Getting regulators to consider benefits in addition to costs is a victory for distributed energy advocates, but there’s a lot more that goes into figuring out what distributed solar is worth. And the process can have a profound effect on the results. E3’s two Nevada reports demonstrate just how significantly changing a couple of inputs can affect the outcome of cost-benefit report. Interestingly, given the outcome, E3 used a more generous set of distributed solar benefits in the 2016 study than in the 2014 case. This time, E3 included distribution benefits for solar in the calculations, and still arrived at the $36 million cost shift. Without those benefits, the cost shift rises to $43 million. This analysis doesn’t include any benefits that cannot be monetized, however. “The cost shift looks at what other ratepayers are paying for the solar versus what they’re getting,” said Ming. “It just looks at things that impact utility rates. That means it’s only looking at monetized benefits.” Societal benefits don’t impact utility rates; therefore, it doesn’t make sense to include them in a cost-shift study, Ming said. Furthermore, the societal benefits are very dispersed. Nevada’s rooftop solar sector is contributing to reduced emissions, but since emissions are global, very little direct benefit accrues to the people of Nevada. For comparison, E3 did run a scenario that looks at externalities and non-monetized health and environmental benefits and found that net costs to the state of Nevada are even higher than the cost shift. In this scenario, leaving existing solar on Nevada’s previous solar rate would cost $55 million per year. This is primarily because distributed solar counts toward Nevada’s RPS, so the more distributed solar there is, the less utility-scale generation there is, which is the cheaper form of clean energy. Meanwhile, E3 states there is no substantial difference in the societal benefits each solar resource offers. “If you’re looking at how can we get the electricity system to be as green as possible, as fast as possible, and as cheap as possible, rooftop will always be at a structural disadvantage to large-scale renewable energy. Because when you install these systems on a rooftop, they’re installed in small quantities so you don’t have economies of scale for installation. They’re often at suboptimal angles, shaded by trees or buildings and often not in sunniest areas like a desert,” said Ming. “All of that adds up to situation where even if costs go down, it will go down for both rooftop and utility-scale, and rooftop will always be more expensive.” Of course, rooftop solar proponents would challenge that conclusion, pointing to the huge swaths of land and transmission lines needed to support large-scale solar projects. Solar advocates are also challenging E3’s latest conclusions and the process through which it was introduced. According to Jon Wellinghoff, chief policy officer for SolarCity, the E3 study was conducted "behind closed-doors" and presented without peer review, which runs counter to Nevada's typical legislative vetting process. "We don't know who decided the inputs," he said. "It was done in a big black box, and here they are touting a [cost-shift] number.” Two Nevada legislators originally requested the E3 follow-up study, but the study didn't make it onto the agenda for the interim energy committee's final hearing last week. In an "unprecedented move," according to Wellinghoff, the study was published in a stand-alone informational docket that does not allow for stakeholder input. For solar advocates, the biggest flaw with the new E3 study is that it does not address all 11 of the cost and benefit categories that Nevada regulators said should be used to “determine the possible value/detriment of NEM” (p. 151). In their net-metering ruling, regulators only accounted for two rooftop solar benefits -- avoided energy and energy losses -- citing “insufficient time or data in this proceeding to assign a value to the other nine variables.” In May, SolarCity and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a peer-reviewed report that looked at the full suite of costs and benefits and found that Nevada’s existing rooftop solar customers provide net benefits to all Nevadans ranging from 1.6 cents to 3.4 cents per kilowatt-hour of solar production, which translates to $7 million to $14 million per year. A version of the report tailored to Northern Nevada will be submitted to Sierra Pacific Power’s upcoming rate case and Integrated Resource Plan. E3’s study may also be considered. Both reports are also likely to be evaluated by Nevada's New Energy Industry Task Force, which is preparing recommendations for Governor Brian Sandoval to include in proposed legislation for 2017. But rather than simply write dueling reports, what stakeholders really need is a full, fair and transparent accounting of the costs and benefits of solar, said Chandler Sherman, deputy campaign manager for the Bring Back Solar Alliance, a rooftop solar advocacy coalition backed by SolarCity. "We look forward to working with other stakeholders to review this draft study, and provide input on the data and analysis through a transparent peer-review process,” Sherman said of the E3 report. “The public deserves a rigorous and fair accounting of the costs and benefits of solar, and we will work with the PUC and other leadership to ensure the updated study, like the initial study, meets the high standards the public expects.” This story has been updated to include comments from Jon Wellinghoff, chief policy officer for SolarCity.

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