SCOTT SKLAR, WHO SHOWERS WITH SOLAR-HEATED water, who drinks his skim milk from his solar-powered refrigerator, who commutes via solar-powered car, who tells time by a solar-powered watch, who wears a sun-faced ring and sun-spotted tie, sweeps into a French restaurant on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C.
Sklar, who has lived the Solar Energy Industries Association for more than a decade, is bald up top, but his hair sprouts out around that spot in grey-brown brillo. Glasses hug his eyes. His beard threatens to strangle him and his mustache pitches in.
Today's Monday, a sunny Monday, the start of the work week for this executive director-solar lobbyist.
7:50 A.M. Sklar is only five minutes late (the watch?),
powered today by his maroon Dodge Caravan, vanity plate "S Sklar." The solar auto is on the chocks, "something wrong with a solenoid." Hey, the thing runs (em backward, "very, very well, but that's a little dangerous here."
Here? In Washington, D.C.? Appropriate, no?
And as appropriate for the solar energy/renewables lobby?
The solar lobby, or business, earning $1.5 billion a year these days, is something many utilities toyed with in the 1980s. More have found it worthwhile in the 1990s, with the advent of spin-off energy services companies and more straightforward tax credits that make it profitable to offer customers solar-powered heating and appliances.
And after all, 80 percent of SEIA's companies weren't around in the early '80s to offer services to utilities. Even today, 75 percent of their solar products ship to the Third World.
But it's likely the energy industry will get to know Sklar better as states fight for clean energy portfolios and other environmental benefits in restructuring legislation. California, for instance, has set aside $54 million to provide rebates for wind, solar and fuel cells. Even the mammoth Tennessee Valley Authority is soliciting solar and other renewable proposals to provide customers a wider choice of power sources.
Envisioned federal deregulation legislation also promises to carry more renewable and environmental protections. Whether protections are cut and left on the floor of Congress remains to be seen, but as Sklar learned long ago, solar is a "political sweetener." Helping the campaign for sun power and renewables is the Clinton Administration, whose ballyhooed Million Solar Roofs program is aimed at outfitting government, commercial and residential roofs with solar panels. Public demand, too, will fuel "green e."
Even so, when will solar pack a Sunday punch?
If there's an agenda for today, and every day in Sklar's world, it's how to underwrite the Million Roofs program, announced by the president last June 27 without a funding formula.
A single day with Sklar reveals the hopes and the realities of solar's future. It provides a taste of Hill leanings on renewables, and gives a snapshot of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency support. (That picture is not always sunny.)
Sklar juices up this day and many others at La Colline, where a chateaubriand can be had for $41.
Sklar, shedding the black trench coat that hides his peripatetic 6-foot, 4-inch frame, steams toward a table and asks Edgar, the waiter, for a grapefruit, English muffin and cappuccino. Grapefruit pulp soon finds a home in his beard.
Sklar ticks off his daily goals, the most notable a "schmooze" with the staff of Vermont Sen. Jim W. Jeffords (R). One topic: S. 687, a bill proposing to support state programs for renewable energy sources and energy conservation. The bill offers a quid pro quo to utilities: a repeal of PURPA.
Jeffords brought a $10-million renewables research and development bill onto the floor of Congress last year, but it was cut to about $6 million, Sklar says. It was a setback for SEIA, which has no political action committee. "There's a group that's been formed to oppose the renewable energy portfolio standards in utility restructuring. They had a $13 million ad campaign." SEIA's war chest, combined with other renewable groups, was about $100,000.
But money doesn't buy everything. "We have a good story," Sklar says. He has ties to about 50 industry groups, partnerships with state organizations like the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, a network of friends and links to the Hill going back to when he worked for Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R) on military and energy issues.
Plus, he has solar gadgets warming up his side. "We use the 'gee whiz' factor," he says.
The Jeffords bill hardly looks passable, and Sklar admits it doesn't have "a snowball's chance in hell."
"Legislation is a dance," he explains. "And part of it is we know this year there won't be a utility restructuring bill. But it's important to lay out ideas and educate."
The bill raises questions as to whether Clean Air Act standards should be set in restructuring legislation or through reorganization of the Act. Sklar insists renewables will be worked into the energy mix, even if his group has to align with environmentalists (em which, as the day reveals, could be tougher than you'd think.
8:20 A.M. Jonathan W. Hurwitch joins Sklar at breakfast, apologizing for being late. (His watch is battery powered.)
"Don't be sorry," Sklar says. "We're schmoozing."
Hurwitch is president of Switch Technologies and executive director of the Energy Storage Association, which earns him the handle of "the battery guy." He orders an orange juice. "We on the record, off the record?"
Sklar tells Hurwitch not to worry.
"I actually admit he's my friend," Hurwitch says. "Unlike most people in town."
Sklar discloses how a week previous to this get-together he missed a meeting with Hurwitch when the White House wanted him to be an observer of Clinton's weekly radio show and to chat about the Million Solar Roofs program.
The solar pitchman explains that before heading to the White House, he grabbed his latest prop: solar roofing shingles, made by United Solar Corp. They look like traditional shingles, repel water, but they also produce electrons when the sun shines.
Sklar is a man clearly as enamored with his technology as with his contacts on the Hill, at federal agencies and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then again, it takes chutzpa to be in his business. How many other lobbyists would welcome a microscopic look at their workaday life? None but Sklar.
Hurwitch and Sklar share a laugh about the Clinton tête-à-tête, then talk about a shakeup at DOE and who will handle formulation of the restructuring bill there. One outcome: a DOE official will move to the World Bank, which could be a plus for funding renewable projects.
Soon Sklar is slashing at his throat (his beard really), apparently to end the sensitive chat.
Hurwitch orders breakfast and Sklar gets a second course: another English muffin, an egg over easy, some "very dry grits" and a second cappuccino.
"Did I tell you about our Carol Browner meeting that went so horrible? So I bring the industry, from all over the country to meet with Carol Browner," the EPA chief. "The worst meeting in the world I have ever had with a federal official."
"Them and DOE are in open warfare," Hurwitch says.
"But here [we are], a trade association that worships EPA, supports every crazy thing they've ever done, we might as well have blown our brains out¼ I bring four small business guys¼ [one is] the biggest solar pool heating company¼ They go around talking about what they do. And [Browner] is stonefaced¼ And she goes 'I hate swimming pools.' And he goes, 'Why?' And she goes, 'Well, they're just vats of chemicals.'"
"Did you get into Kyoto and her boss [Vice President Al Gore] talking about environmental regulation via technology?"
"I asked for seven things, none of which really cost money. [Two senior EPA officials] were nodding like crazy and she didn't commit to a damn thing."
Throughout breakfast, Sklar never takes a note. He won't jot down a single digit the rest of the day; the light of experience fueling some kinetic memory aid.
9:55 A.M. Breakfast breaks up. Sklar's running 10 minutes late for an office staff meeting. He pays for the meal, pockets his credit card (embossed with the sun), and heads outside to his minivan. Back at the SEIA office building garage off C Street N.W., he parks in a yellow striped "No Parking" zone, squeaking a tire against the curb.
He shows his visitor the fourth floor offices of the association, making way for a conference room cluttered with gadgets: an indoor-outdoor animal waterer called a Solar Sipper, books, papers, solar panels, sun-faced paperweights.
A magnum of Fetzer 1991 Sundial Chardonnay sits on the floor, choked in a web of wires leading to a phone, VCR and TV. The room's walls are splattered with pictures: Sklar and Clinton, Gore, Energy Secretary Federico Peña, Sen. Dale Bumpers, Gore again, and framed letters embossed with every eagle that flies over every branch of government.
Sklar disappears, apparently to his office, an igloo of paper and paraphernalia, to make phone calls. Hurwitch makes one last pitch for his friend: "No one's neutral about Scott," he says. "They either love him or they hate him. Either way, they respect him."
10:10 A.M. Sklar reappears. He and Hurwitch launch into funding talks, this time about the Million Solar Roofs implementation program.
"I'm going basically outside of DOE on a Million Solar Roof implementation. They can't deal with it."
"They can't deal with it contractually?" Hurwitch asks.
"They can't deal with it any way."
Sklar mentions the DOE official leading the Million Roofs program. "He's a sweetheart. They have no clout in this process. They're not worth any money. They can't deal with money."
Sklar says $1.5 million in federal money will go to states for demonstration solar units. Meanwhile, he's trying to raise $400,000 from the industry to do others.
10:38 A.M. Sklar's sprawled in a chair in the conference room, worrying at his cuticles while two of his 20 staffers, Linda Ladas and Murray S. Liebman, discuss the Million Roofs program.
Liebman says a representative of a major California utility recently noted utilities are not doing photovoltaic projects now. He suggests shifting focus from the Utility PhotoVoltaic Group to incorporate the Million Solar Roofs, and to focus on roofs, not the utility grid. Utilities just aren't deploying products. "Big manufacturers are down on this program in a big way," he says, citing a survey of SEIA's biggest members.
Sklar suggests a heart-to-heart with utilities. "That's going to have to be brokered right now," he says. "I think we have to sit down with the people that are going to be on the board¼ explain where our guys are coming from."
Sklar explains the White House announced its Million Solar Roofs program last June, then in early December formed an inter-agency coordinating group. Tax credits existed for commercial users and were created for residential users. SEIA is trying to get buy-downs, lending and federal procurement for the program. In a November speech, Clinton gave a federal government building commitment of 20,000 roofs by 2015.
11:21 A.M. Liebman wraps up the meeting: "The sun shines on us wherever we may go."
Sklar packs his tricks kit to take to Sen. Jeffords' office. Solar roofing shingles, a solar-powered point-and-shoot camera and a solar-powered battery recharger. He'll meet with Kenneth M. Connolly, legislative director, and Lisa Carter, legislative fellow.
Getting into the Caravan, Sklar talks about the Million Solar Roofs program. "You know how they say watch what you wish for, because sometimes it comes true? A Million Solar Roofs is just that."
The federal inter-agency process is supposed to help in areas of federal procurement, lending and buy-downs. Working with government is like peeling an onion, he says. "In some cases, the political people agree and it energizes the bureaucracy. In many cases, the bureaucracy agrees and I have to educate the upper political people that their own agents support this¼ so it's sort of nuts."
Late for the 11 a.m. meeting, Sklar accelerates into traffic, makes an illegal right on red, mentions his dismal parking ticket record and how he alone has kept the city afloat.
Within three minutes he's in sight of the Senate building complex.
"This! Look at this!" he yells, eyeing a parking space within walking distance. "Unbelievable. Uh-oh. 'No Parking.' Well, alright." He zips in anyway, right in front of the Metropolitan Police station.
Half running, trench coat flapping as if he's going to leave ground, Sklar heads for the Dirkson building's side entrance. He's dodging trees and bushes that edge the parking lot, leaving tracks in the mud. "You've got to be nimble," he says. "To be a lobbyist, you've got to get around."
In the elevator, he says he hopes to raise issues related to supplemental appropriations for solar energy. "On the supplemental, it's sort of a strategy on what we've got to do to either have meetings with [Sen. Pete V.] Domenici or do a floor action." A floor action could win funding by adding amendments to an appropriations bill.
11:33 A.M. In Jefford's anteroom, Sklar is warmly welcomed and ushered into a conference room by the two aides. He distributes photovoltaic home design software and pamphlets. Carter questions the shiny ink: "¼recycled paper?"
"Soy ink, don't start with me, lady!" he fires back jokingly.
Then the tour de force: the roofing shingles.
Connolly: "How much does this cost?"
"Ten times more than a regular roofing shingle," Sklar says. For the average house, that's about $40,000. "But remember, this is the first automated plant to run it¼ We're in generation one and the whole deal is to get to generation two and three."
Connolly: "I'll never forget when we announced the Greening of the White House in '93. Scott Sklar standing up in the Indian Treaty room with his gadget¼"
"My solar security light? Saying why can't we have these on the White House?"
"You had a lot of good ideas¼"
"And the security and aesthetics bureaucracy go crazy."
Carter: "These shingles would fit right in with any other shingle."
Then Sklar works into the serious stuff: net metering, appropriations, tax credits.
SEIA has campaigned in states to get net metering legislated. Net metering sets interconnection standards to tie photovoltaics to the utility grid. It allows homeowners to use and contract for simpler standards, instead of complex solutions costing thousands of dollars. So far, 20 states have passed net metering laws.
Sklar says a national standard is needed since "patchwork" requirements hurt industry in the cost of doing business. He says the political right supports the agenda because net metering is about property rights and freedom of choice; the left wing supports net metering for its environmentalism and free choice.
The Jeffords legislative director switches gears: "On the appropriations end, this is our year. And it seems that in the past we've worked, and continue to want to work, with Sen. Domenici. He's always been good working with us. This year looks like the year we need to build a strong coalition and go for the numbers, obviously much higher than last year."
"But you have to be hungry and tough on this stuff," Sklar insists. "I don't believe typically in an election year, that you can lose a vote on renewable energy, because you get an Energy Star from the League of Conservation Voters and it promotes business. We have never lost a floor vote, ever."
Carter: "Great. Well, I'm ready."
Sklar: "And we don't want to wuss out this year either if Domenici doesn't agree¼"
Carter: "I won't be a wuss."
Connolly: "Finally, on the tax end, there's a staff meeting to discuss a potential green tax package."
Sklar: "Let me give you some guidance on that. The administration didn't really discuss this with me, and in some ways I was really infuriated about it, because I've had immense interaction both on the Million Solar Roofs initiatives, the Kyoto stuff, this appropriation package that came out the door¼ Tax stuff? Out of the blue. I was suggesting a production tax credit, not an investment tax credit for water heating. They decided that was going to be a pain in the butt to meter¼ So they agreed to do an investment tax credit, but lower caps. We want you to feel flexible on how you deal with our portion of the credits. Do not feel you are tied to the administration proposal or that by supporting the administration, you're carrying our water. If there's a better way of doing it, we're open."
11:56 A.M. Connolly bows out of the meeting.
Sklar, latching on to the fact that Carter has come to Jeffords' office by way of EPA, mentions that the agency was deficient in working with renewable and efficiency technologies.
"We have no renewables shop at EPA," Carter says. "No renewables anything."
Sklar says a senior EPA staffer told him the agency didn't want to get into renewables because "DOE does renewables."
"I said if you think the role of EPA is just to look at the end of the smokestack and the end of the tailpipe, that's great. But if you think EPA's job is to promote more cost-effective uses of truly clean technology, you've got to be part of it."
He relates his Carol Browner "vat of chemicals" story.
Carter: "I don't know the best way to do that, but I'll talk with Ken."
12:12 P.M. Leaving Jeffords' office, Sklar assesses the meeting: "Your average get-acquainted schmooze with the energy staff, who you've got to be cozy to¼ they were very receptive to all my ideas. I got a commitment out of the staff director to meet with Domenici's staff on funding issues, which was one of my goals. I got them willing to accept net metering (em one of my priorities (em in their next restructuring package¼ overall, good."
The next lobbyist hitching post for the day: the Monocle restaurant, by way of the Hart building landscaping. More tracks in the mud.
12:17 P.M. At lunch Sklar (em over bean soup, salad, chilled trout, a cappuccino (em gets back to Jeffords' bill. "Most of us, by the way, believe we're not going to win much on the committee side of these issues, so we're going to go to the floor and be very public."
Sklar revisits his largest personal political black eye, in the mid-1980s when tax credits were ready to expire for commercial and residential applications, mostly solar water heaters. SEIA had gone to the Hill two years before the expiration date to ask to scale down the credit. The Hill, he says, responded that it didn't want to deal with it. The Reagan administration was not pro-solar, and saw it as technology supported by Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown. "They politicized the technology, much like they attacked the environment groups going after nuclear," he says. In the end, the residential credit was zeroed out. Sklar says more than 150 businesses failed and 10,000 people (em installers, dealers and manufacturers (em were out of work.
But Sklar never considered leaving his post.
"This is part passion, not just a business, for me," he says.
Luckily, a few years later, George Bush came into office and wasn't ideologically predisposed to any one energy source. He ramped up R&D for the industry. Bush programs have grown and Clinton has added to that. Those two presidents increased solar thermal budgets by 60 percent from the Reagan years, when they were cut 80 percent, Sklar says.
The photovoltaic and solar thermal budget this year is $84 million. Sklar says this pales in comparison to the $2 billion to $8 billion that subsidizes conventional forms of energy annually. SEIA's 1999 fiscal year recommendation for PV and solar thermal is $136 million. The politics on that appropriation will play out on the subcommittee level in June and July. Part of that funding could include efforts to punch up the Million Solar Roofs initiative.
1:30 P.M. Sklar's back in his office, on the phone, late for a meeting with a venture capitalist from New York who's scheduled to talk about funding options for Sklar's 165 member companies and 400 companies affiliated with state and regional chapters. The man never shows.
2:02 P.M. Sklar has taken to the phone in the conference room. "Now you can hear me yell at one of my members." He berates the member gently on his voice-mail for talking about bringing a major financing company to DOE to discuss funding the solar roofs initiative, without talking to SEIA first. The talks would only set expectations that neither side can deliver. It's a White House decision, Sklar insists.
2:09 P.M. The member calls back. Sklar listens, then bursts into words: "My fears are they're going to go to DOE and they're going to walk away shaking their heads because DOE has no program¼ I would more prefer to set up the meeting in our office when I have someone from the White House, DOE, HUD, and EPA, talk about a Million Solar Roofs and blast the pants off of them."
2:22 P.M. Back in the van. It sounds like a hubcap cracks as Sklar leaves the curb. Soon he's speeding across Independence Mall to a DOE meeting at 1000 Independence Avenue. He laments the fact that he's always trying to attract private capital to the industry, as well as government capital.
As he nears the Forrestal building, he talks about solar parking meters and how patrons could use their credit cards to pay. How administrators could pick up meter data by satellite at the day's end.
He yells: "A legal one! Yes!" It's a parking spot, complete with a pole and the empty hull of a District meter.
2:40 P.M. Sklar bursts in, 10 minutes late, on a meeting with Dan Reicher, the DOE's assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy; David Nemtzow of the Alliance to Save Energy; Mike Totten of the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology, and four other industry officials. The meeting's agenda includes the best way to educate the public on efficient and renewable energy. A wedge of sunlight splits the meeting room table.
Reicher quickly notes that the meeting is off the record.
3:21 P.M. The meeting adjourns. "We've got to get together and schmooze," Sklar tells one participant.
The lobbyist heads to his next meeting across the hall, after some mini-schmoozing with DOE staffers. Like most of the rooms along the wide corridors of this federal building, this one's very utilitarian. A thumping sound like a heartbeat that probably is a HVAC system gone bad can be heard beyond one wall.
The senior DOE official in this meeting asks not to be named. Also present: Jane M. Weissman, Vicki Mastaitis, Jack F. Werner Jr. (em all of IREC (em and David J. Warner, an IREC member and National Renewable Energy Laboratory official.
3:29 P.M. Sklar launches into his appeal to the senior DOE man almost immediately on the Million Solar Roofs program, in an easy-going banter. The DOE official is as easy-going.
But it's clear from the start of the meeting that the DOE will provide little to no financial support on the program.
"There are miscues going on," Sklar says. "You're feeling picked on." He explains that his staff is trying to build solidarity around the administration and the DOE on the roof program. That they want the 500,000 early pledges of roofs turned into reality.
The official says the industry is grousing that the DOE must solve the funding and lending dilemma. "I say industry must."
Sklar counters that Fannie Mae, the government lending agency, has done "bupkus" for the industry.
The official gives Sklar a challenge: He needs four or five substantive proposals from industry so that should DOE intercede with Fannie Mae, SEIA would at least have deals to bring to the table. He mentions a meeting with one of Sklar's members (the one Sklar chewed out earlier in the day). He says he sees the alignment with a private lender as a plus.
Sklar: "It would be wonderful to see GMAC and Fannie Mae work on a program. I would grow hair again."
"We have to get the utilities," the DOE official says.
"If we've got Fannie Mae and GMAC, that covers the capital cost. All we have to do is promote it¼ The problem with the utilities industry right now is they're in the middle of restructuring so they don't want to get too far out." Sklar says as many as 60 percent of utilities feel they can't invest because of restructuring. "Regulators are saying 'Don't get adventuresome.'"
The lobbyist says the Utility PhotoVoltaic Group has learned that DOE funding hasn't been steady. His idea is to block dollars to states and broker investment out, some to the traditional financial community. "Capital will drive acceptance," he says.
"The danger is putting too much out there¼ creating too artificial a market," the DOE official counters. He later notes that the solar industry is not uniform across the U.S. Some areas are ready to go, others are afraid. "You can go out and make this an opportunity or the alternative is it's too late."
4:23 P.M. Matt Cheney, director of Utility PhotoVoltaic Group, and Charles W. Linderman, director of EEI's fossil fuels and renewable programs, join the meeting.
Cheney has good news: His group has 26 new proposals worth $86.5 million for rooftop solar systems. Not all are from utilities and about $15 million of that will be funded by the federal government.
4:35 P.M. Sklar glances at his solar-powered watch, perhaps thinking about picking up his 4-year-old daughter, Stella, at day care.
"You guys are the market," the DOE official says. "I'm waiting to get your comments back because you are the market. Do you see what I'm getting at?"
Sklar: "In usual government programs, the government always comes up and tells us what it's going to do and then we whine about it and shape the clay and get something done¼ [now] we've got to present it on a tray to [you]¼"
"It's your call, Scott."
5:04 P.M. The meeting ends. Sklar is out the door, people yelling for him down the hallway, their voices echoing in the hallway. "Back in a minute!" he answers. He doesn't return.
"I don't think the federal government can tell anybody to do anything," he says in the elevator. "So my goal is how do we drive capital (em people with money. Some of it by government, some (em " the door opens and he strides toward the lobby door, toward the lowering sun.
5:15 P.M. The way to Arlington is paved with a discussion of patient money (money with long returns, sometimes from Asian investors), institutional money and philanthropic money. Sklar says he doesn't want government to fund the roofs initiative; he wants costs shared. The UPVG six-to-one cost share is a good one, he says. Since 1992, Fannie Mae has done only one energy-efficient mortgage, maybe a few others, he says. That's "not acceptable."
5:27 P.M. Sklar bounds out of the van, picks up his daughter at her day care center, buckles her into her car seat, then drives to his house, parking on the wrong side of the street for efficiency's sake. Stella heads inside for a toy while her dad gives a nickel tour of the toys outside: solar panels on the roof for the solar water heater, refrigerator and to charge the electric car. The neighbor's driveway is home to a small trailer of PV panels (em single crystal, polycrystalline and thin film.
Stella returns with an unclothed doll. Her father shows off his greenhouse, his solar-powered weather station and the back of his house (em a curved wall of glass on one floor.
5:45 P.M. Sklar drives back into the city for a National Association of State Energy Officials cocktail party at the Red Sage restaurant. He thinks it's at 6, but will soon learn it's at 7:30. A fouled schedule? An effort to get out from under the microscope?
It doesn't matter, tomorrow's Tuesday. The mission, the effort, the campaign, the sunshine of his life, begins anew.
The ticket he gets parking in a bus zone on F Street near the restaurant won't matter.
Still city-bound, Sklar is asked: Does he ever get discouraged? Meeting with DOE, he half-jokingly suggested he may not see a million solar roofs built in his lifetime.
"I get sometimes, well sometimes things seem a little too complicated," he says. "You know it's like¼" He laughs. He supplicates the darkening heavens with a hand. "If we wait around for every piece to fall together in this society we would (em where would we be as a country?
"Part of it is (em what America's known for is that risk (em entrepreneurism.
"Sometimes the people, not so much in the government, but in my allied industries, go up there and talk about free enterprise and America taking the risk and when you look in their eyes and go, 'Take a risk,' they go, 'Whoa, can't do that 'til you prove it.'"
He says all this as he drives downtown over the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, pink dusk painting the city. Up ahead: the Lincoln Memorial, back lit. The Washington monument, also lit, standing even taller. The moon is almost full.
"Everything we have in our society was unproven at some point until somebody takes a risk," Sklar says.
"In fact, some things were laughed out of town."
The van heads into the city, into tomorrow (em another breakfast, another cocktail party (em past the fir tree on the Ellipse that, at Christmas, was lit by solar power.
Joseph F. Schuler Jr. is senior associate editor at Public Utilities Fortnightly.
Sklar revisits his largest personal political black eye, in the mid-1980s¼ The Reagan administration was not pro-solar, and saw it as technology supported by Jimmy Carter and Jerry Brown. More than 150 businesses failed and 10,000 people were out of work.
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