This is one of two solar gardens installed and maintained outside Breckenridge by Clean Energy Collective.

Courtesy photo

This is one of two solar gardens installed and maintained outside Breckenridge by Clean Energy Collective.

Routt County commissioners hesitate to invest public monies in community solar garden

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— The Routt County commissioners placed an emphasis on the goal of transitioning to “future energy economies” in their recent strategic planning process, and they already oversee a significant solar array on top of the Routt County Justice Center on the west side of Steamboat Springs. But they weren’t ready Monday to tell Facilities Director Tim Winter to continue to explore investing in the new community solar garden that Clean Energy Collective is planning to begin constructing next month in Craig in collaboration with Yampa Valley Electric Association.

CEC is a for-profit company that has built similar community solar arrays in Colorado mountain towns. The company allows individual households to spend as little as $850 on a small portion of the larger solar facility, in order to offset a portion (or all) of their electricity usage without having to invest thousands of dollars to put their own grid on top of their homes.

The solar garden offers the added benefit of being ideally situated on its planned site for optimal solar gain, something that rarely, if ever, is achieved on an existing home.

Commissioners Steve Ivancie and Doug Monger said they were uncomfortable investing public dollars given CEC’s unwillingness to share with them some of the financial details involved in building the solar array.

“The lack of transparency here, and that it’s not allowed for the public to view the contract, that is a non-starter for me,” Ivancie said.

Monger agreed.

“There are too many loose ends for me,” he said. “We aren’t allowed to see the contract. The public’s not allowed to see the contract. We aren’t allowed to see the cost. I’m fine with not" going forward.

Commission Chairman Tim Corrigan said he was reluctant to jump into the solar garden with county funds before the commission has prioritized a number of different alternative energy items — vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, for example.

“I totally agree this might be one of the things we might be doing,” Corrigan said. “My concern is that it would be one of many different things. I’d like to prioritize what those might be, and this group has not completed its action steps.”

He also referred to a Sunday article in The New York Times that pointed out that the price of solar panels has dropped steadily. Corrigan wondered if the county might not feel some buyer’s remorse if it buys into the solar garden at today’s prices, only to see them fall further in the near future.

Winter almost persuaded Corrigan that future price drops wouldn’t matter if the current price resulted in a net energy cost savings throughout the next five years.

He pointed out that seven years ago, the county paid $8 per watt for solar panels on the Justice Center and since has recouped $60,000 in the form of renewable energy credits from Xcel as well as $24,000 in reduced electric bills.

The pre-construction price being quoted by CEC this fall is as low as $2.75 per watt when a 30 percent tax credit is factored in.

“If you can make an investment that is going to more than pay for itself, do you want to wait and see if you can do better in five years?” Winter asked.

Monday's discussion was informal, and the commissioners noted that according to Winter, they have until the completion of construction on the solar garden, likely December, to take advantage of pre-construction pricing, should their position change.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Comments

John Weibel 2 years, 7 months ago

Funny thing is that the permit fees to put solar panels on ones own property in rural routt county make it very costly to do so on ones own land. Maybe, if the county commissioners are concerned about renewable energy, they ought to look at how their Planning Fees, for an item that has almost no impact on another except visually, make this renewable energy form more expensive than elsewhere. Seems to me, that government red tape is one of the largest detriments to sustainability.

By the way, if CEC is presenting a way for the county to maintain current energy costs into the future and the commissioners were worried about rising energy costs, putting a damper on how they can spend funds elsewhere, then maybe it does not matter what the finances of a private entity are. It seems to me that even Public Servants PROFIT form their LABOR, unfortunately, many public servants seem to fail to comprehend that their wages are based upon profits/revenue that the county takes in from its constituents.

Robin Hood did not rob from the rich to give to the poor, he took back excess taxes and returned them to the people.

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mark hartless 2 years, 7 months ago

"Seems to me, that government red tape is one of the largest detriments to sustainability."

From your lips to God's ears, John. Can't say it any better than that. And that condition runs right on up the scale from county to city to state to the feds.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

John,

Seems to me that Routt County Planning typically isn't involved with installing a solar system. Planning says up to 120% of usage is an use by right which is to be administratively approved as long as on a legal buildable lot and not too close to the property line.

Are you talking about the building dept requirements?

As for CEC, any plan that contains confidential elements is a bad choice for government. It means the public cannot know whether government is making a good deal. And a complicated deal partially financed by tax breaks when government doesn't pay taxes is the sort of thing that can go wrong quickly.

Personally, any scheme that seeks to use tax breaks to make something a good deal for government is probably too complex to be a good deal. Private businesses should be making the investments, not government.

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John Weibel 2 years, 7 months ago

Scott, Was told that by Sam Jones, maybe I am mistaken.

Though, in agriculture, the processing of ones own agricultural product does not appear to be a use by right and requires a permit, from personal experience. Yet, Colorado is a right to farm state and per tax codes the processing of ones own ag product is an ag activity, yet it is not a use by right. Sorry, but still miffed that the government believes that the processing of ones own ag product is anything but ag in nature at all levels.

The county seems to have classified ag activities as commercial if one has an employee, because of my issue, from what I understand. Seems to me that just about every ag operation has an employee at some point, wether a w-2 one or 1099. Unfortunately, they seemingly are trying to cover the butts and fail to acknowledge state tax laws and comprehend that forcing an ag structure to comply with all the building codes wastes resources and makes it hard to be financially viable.

Small farms are exempt from ADA requirements, yet making someone who hopes to "process" their ag product in a structure on their farm, might be made unworkable if it has to comply with every code, because they have been classified as commercial/industrial or something else other than AG, which Tax Codes, Insurers, etc seem to believe a small farm is. Many times an ag structure is seasonal in nature and are designed as such, not complying with energy codes as they are not heated year round, if at all. I guess, I am jaded with the county because of the BS I have had to put up with and the complete disregard, in their beliefs that the county can come up with their own definition of ag versus commercial, when State tax codes clearly state what is ag in nature and views from insurers, who are the ones the building codes are designed to protect.

Does the government get full transparency when they build a building, knowing the perceived margins of the company building it will make? Probably not, the tax breaks, renewable energy credits which they hope to sell to exel, that make the project profitable really do not need to be known by Routt County government. Routt County, needs to know its true cost and perceived benefit from the project. The financial details as to how CEC believes they are going to make money are proprietary and unless those numbers come into play as to the viability for Routt County's return (needing a tax credit to make the numbers make sense), then it is meaningless to see those details.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 7 months ago

Solar is intermittent feel good power. When the sun isn't out the rest of us have to pick up the tab. With incentives etc. it can be presented as a plus to the consumer and they may save money but it is on the backs of others and conventional plants. This is definitely the PC way to go but can we afford to have two power sources when only one is usable?

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John Weibel 2 years, 7 months ago

Scott, I believe Sam stated that the permit fees in Routt County were 3 fold what they were in Moffat county for the project.

Fortunately Fred, most power is consumed during the day when most power is consumed. Also, if enough small producers came forth then a solid base load during the day when power requirements are highest would develop. Just as the wind does not blow all the time in one local, if you look from ND to Texas there is alway wind blowing somewhere, which could provide a decent base load.

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Eric Morris 2 years, 7 months ago

To add to John, the wind blows more powerfully at night and during winter which might balance some of the limitations of solar.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 7 months ago

John, There are big problems with transmitting power and the grid that make your ideas more complicated. It's not that simple.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 7 months ago

John, When the sun goes behind a cloud we still need power and the conventional plant has to be running, creating a situation where the solar system has little real value.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

"When the sun isn't out the rest of us have to pick up the tab."

There is no "tab" for everyone else to pick up. At any moment there are generating plants running at less than capacity able to quickly ramp up as needed. A conventional power plat could have a fault and go down or power usage could spike.

Hydroelectric is a great for adaptive capacity since not generating power keeps water behind the dam. Newer wind turbines can do this as well by controlling the angle of the blades.

A generating plant gets paid for providing ready capacity as well as for actual electricity.

Regardless, the solar and win reduces the need for other power to be generated when they are running and their variability does not make their power useless.

As for CEC's confidential info, they are asking for a lot of money up front and county should want to be confident that they will still be around. The winning contractor for a government building has to put up a performance bond comparable to the cost of the building. So the government is protected if the contractor goes bankrupt or otherwise fails to build it.

If CEC was offering to sell the electricity to the county at $.10 per kwh for the next 20 years then county wouldn't have reasons to care about anything else with CEC. It is the county owning the panel, or actually apparently not owning the panels, but just owning the electricity produced which they would then sell that creates the complexities that should be understood.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 7 months ago

By not letting the marketplace make our decisions we are putting our country at a considerable disadvantage on the world scene by feel good ventures such as this. This causes us to outsource production overseas. Their concern for the environment is often nil so the net benefit from our effort is definitely diminished.

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Sam Jones 2 years, 7 months ago

Hey John,

Not sure what you're referencing in terms of permit fee cost differences between counties, I have no idea. Perhaps you got that from another source? Cost to participate in CEC solar array is - as Tim said - almost 1/3 what everyone was paying a few short years ago and the fact that the county can take advantage of the Fed tax credit in the current pricing is an opportunity (lost). Municipalities can't get tax credits as non tax paying entities of course - but via the Community solar array, they can.

County should do this now, the next array will be more expensive as tax credits expire in 2016 and solar prices are already on the rise. $2.75/watt will be one of those costs that we look back on and say, wow, why didn't we buy more at that price.

I think CEC would be very wiling to share contract info with the county. I think I have seen them all personally (Power purchase agreement with YVEA as well as contract with CEC). Are they looking for some other contract?

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

"$2.75/watt will be one of those costs that we look back on and say, wow, why didn't we buy more at that price."

I see no evidence to support that claim. Everything about solar cells suggests greater efficiency and lower costs in the future. They are not using enough of expensive raw materials to suggest their costs have to go up. Instead, the manufacturing process is technology which is getting cheaper.

Not sure why county should buy as they don't pay taxes. Seems to me that Ski Corps, Sheraton, Grand, and other private businesses should be interested buyers. For as much energy Peabody uses, if it is actually a good deal then Peabody should buy it all up. And they don't need legal trickery to be able to use a tax break.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

But the free market is making the decisions. No one is telling Xcel whether to buy solar or wind or of what design. Xcel and TriState are being told to meet certain requirements on polluntants and they can do that with clean coal capturing CO2, nat gas which results in less CO2 per generated watt, renewables or whatever.

And that is currently being done with minimal effects upon electric rates Iowa is generating 14% of their electricity with wind and they have the 8th lowest electric rates in the country.

In fact, the price of electricity from recent wind farms is between 5 and 8 cents per kwh.

the same people that say the Keystone pipeline needs to be built are strangely silent about regulations making it impossible to run power lines to West Texas for planned wind farms.

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rhys jones 2 years, 7 months ago

Wind, solar, and geothermal, combined, aren't but a drop in the bucket, compared to nuclear. Dad's career was in power generation, and according to him -- and Duke Energy, about the biggest player in the game -- the future is nuclear. Leave it to Science how to deal with the spent fuel; meanwhile, Utah and Nevada compete for the honor of disposing of it. Bury it deep.

I applaud Mankind's efforts to find a viable and sustainable alternative, and I wish us the best of luck there -- but in the meantime, Palo Verde supplies power for millions.

There's a whole Third World, only now awakening to the benefits of electricity, and begging for it.

Nukes are here to stay.

Because, as Dad said: Everybody wants pizza!!

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jerry carlton 2 years, 7 months ago

Science has been working on how to dispose of spent fuel for 30 years. It is all still sitting in pools at the plants. Maybe that is the politicians fault or maybe the scientists fault. I do not know. About 30 years ago I worked at General Iron Works, a subsidiary of Stearns Roger Corp. We were the largest fabricators of Nuclear Fuel Handling Cranes in the Country and had built over 50% of them in the country under license from General Electric. and Westinghouse. While I was there we also built two IF300 Shipping Casks for shipping spent nuclear fuel. They were sent to Japan for moving their spent fuel rods to I do not know where. When a technology can not solve a problem this major in 30 years, I have my doubts about the viability of the technology. There were also a couple of incidents, Three Mile Island, Cherboynl, and a place in Japan I will not even try to spell that have disenchanted me with nuclear. Fort Saint Vrain did not work out too well in Colorado and Washington Public Power Supply in Washington state was a complete disaster while I was there working at Boeing.

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John Weibel 2 years, 7 months ago

Sam, I remember having a conversation with you about the permit fees. I have not spoken with anyone about solar power and over a year ago I approached you about figuring out some way to help small agricultural enterprises be loaned money to get started up, which was about the time that this creation came into being. Maybe the conversation centered around how the permitting fees were spread over a large project, maybe the county has changed how permitting of solar works, I do not know, they have changed the fact you do not have to have a permit to operate a dairy in Routt County any longer. Yet I was able to pay 1.5 times the advertised rate so they could come out and take pictures for an operation none on the planning board knew why I was there.

To be frank I am still miffed about the whole building department, because I hired a consultant who consults for the FDA and helped design my building. He has designed new drains for cheese production facilities and speaks at USDA events on safety, yet the local building department wants to put a layer of drywall over an ICF and then a panel designed specifically for this use to eliminate mold, bacterial issues that arise. Yet we need to put up a 1/2 inch layer of drywall between the two layers for some reason, I guess so that the building cost is higher and I pay more fees.

Just a wee bit jaded as the FDA has recently tried to outlaw the use of wooden board in cheese aging "caves" as they may harbor bacteria, yet most studies show they are less likely than plastic and most recently have proposed outlawing many craft cheeses' because they contain higher levels of bacteria in them, most of which are beneficial, yet the corporate controlled food industry can not compete with these craft foods, but big brother is here to save us from ourselves and gosh darn it we need three people in Routt county to determine the best use of our land and golly you need a permit for this that and the other, only if enough people cry out will we stop holding up individuals from using their land in ways that harm no one else for additional funding for the government.

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John Weibel 2 years, 7 months ago

Sorry rambling

My favorite non politician, Henry Kissinger, that some how works behinds the scenes of the us government is quoted as saying that "if you control the oil you will control countries, if you control the food then you will control the people." Essentially, the layers of government that make it expensive and hard for the little guy to compete, coupled with higher insurance rates as we are farther away from fire protection (essentially making a 2 hour firewall a moot point and a waste of resources - I will have hot dogs and marshmallows for any fir responder to ensure the fire is contained and a locked gate after walking slowly to the neighbors home to make the call - so it is a complete loss and why rural insurance rates are nearly double of city rates.... yet somehow we need to comply with city building codes, which serve a purpose where building density is high, not on top of each other. Yet out here where the separation is being created, the separation essentially makes me safe from what I am doing at other parts of the day, the only people that may be on both sides of the wall would have needed to clone themselves in this situation.

Which brings up another issue that I can not discuss yet. Unfortunately, the non-elected government officials think they are making the world better, creating walkable communities, which I have when I go to work, yet that is getting very expensive, in trying to create a very sanitary environment and then throwing in all the other issues that the international building code guide, written by engineers who profit, from creating plans which are hard to read and thereby require you to have them consult further and in this case, have no idea what is trying to be be done and so, essentially need to educate themselves on your dime. Yet a knowledgable professional from another state who actually works with small cheese producers can not do the work and can only consult because they do not have a license in said state, because being classified as commercial requires additional "qualified" oversight.

Sorry venting at all the lost and wasted money, in trying to comply with perceived rules which probably were not intended to be implemented in the way they have been, in my case.

Thank you for protecting us from ourselves. Needing to pasteurize milk for safety as opposed to testing for pathogens ensures safety... Oh right, 2 dies and many hospitalized from a pasteurized milk outbreak. All those robots milking cows today, makes me wonder how in creation they can get them clean, based upon personal experience and re-cleaning a teat, that appeared clean because the rag had a smudge on it after cleaning.

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John Weibel 2 years, 7 months ago

By the way Fred, T Boone Pickens, seemingly has dumped a lot of money in wind power for some reason. When I studied the numbers in the very early 2000's I figured a 18% return with tax incentives and over 10 without.

The grid is old and really needs upgrading, however, that does not stop it from effectively transmitting Wind Power. Might be why Excel had no problem with trying to reduce coal power and use nat gas, because it can come on and go off line quickly, where coal - the energy you probably know best because of proximity can not. Yet it would be the biggest beneficiary of a smart grid.

Rhys, You really think Nukes are the best, you might think again based upon the glowing areas of Japan, the dead area in Russia and Jerry's comments. Really, figuring out how Tesla, captured the Etheric energy that is all around us powered his car, is what needs to happen. Yet we are conditioned to believe what the PTB wants of us. Just read that the POTUS wants FCC in newsrooms now to help ensure the news conforms and the US is barely within the top 50 of freest countries as far as free speech goes. Wow, that is nearly mind blowing having a constitution that guarantees free speech, I guess today if you are in a free speech zone though. Cant be talking smack outside of that now can we, the government is always right.

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rhys jones 2 years, 7 months ago

I didn't make any value judgments; I just echoed the opinions of the professionals. I hope alternatives CAN replace coal and nukes, eventually, just doubt that will happen any time soon, with known technologies.

Obama is just a henchman for the Fed*, and what the Fed wants, the Fed gets. FCC in newsrooms? Hardly a surprise. Homeland Security is already whitewashing all national and international news -- I worked on the facility where they do it. Take it for what it's worth.

Fed* -- Federal Reserve, the private corporation

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

Looking around at various websites, modern windmills looks to be the cheapest. These 250+ foot towers with blades longer than the wings of a 747 produce serious amounts of power. They are building 6 mega watt windmills which reduces costs.

Aerodynamics is so counter intuitive so that a catamaran goes faster across the wind than with the wind directly behind it. Windmills use that principle to the maximum and so as the blades spin they have a faster apparent wind speed.

T Boone Pickens with his preferred sites in West Texas blocked off by a lack of transmission lines is instead installing at the next best available sites.

Nuclear is no longer generally seen as that cheap. The face steady radiation damage to so many parts that their construction costs that they have limited life span so their operational life are pretty high. And the decommissioning costs are also huge. San Onofre's failed upgrade also showed that a $600M project to extend the life is not a guaranteed success.

Modern nat gas plants are the cheapest to build and as long as nat gas stays cheap are inexpensive to run. But the more those are built then the sooner that nat gas prices go up.

Geothermal has the problem of limited sites that can provide enough steam to run a decent sized generating plant.

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Eric Morris 2 years, 7 months ago

Decisions about fuel sources are not made by the free market, and the entities making those decisions want what is in their best interests--if the EPA rule aligns with what they already doing it is a great rule, or let's shoehorn our plan into the "free market" of FERC. For instance, just today:

http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/downloadOpen.asp?downloadfile=20140917%2D5006%2829788541%29%2Epdf&folder=3147584&fileid=13637294&trial=1

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

I read that being a dispute between wind producers and PSC over rates PSC can charge by claiming wind is too unpredictable. Wind producers are contesting that wind is not that unpredictable and that the PUC has made prior decisions on this issue which prevent this sort of charges to wind producers.

Electric utilities as regional monopolies are regulated by government and part of that is treating power generation companies fairly. In this case, it is wind power arguing that PSC is overstating the issue of variability and is trying to pawn off nonexistent costs to wind power generators.

Seems to be pretty generic sort of back and forth that is part of being a regulated monopoly. I don't see anything there say PSC must close down coal plants or anything fuel specific.

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Eric Morris 2 years, 7 months ago

You read it correctly, but my point is there is no free market per se in the utility business. That generic back and forth, though regular, is no indication of free.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

Eric,

Though, someone wishing to install windmills is free to chose among the utilities seeking the one that has the best terms. And the windmill investor makes or loses money based upon electricity production, not some guaranteed rate of return.

So the market is not free, but it is still private industry where good decisions and proper execution of good plans is critical for making money. So market forces are at play.

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John Weibel 2 years, 7 months ago

Really back to the point, of county regs making life less sustainable. I sought to understand why a firewall was needed. I wonder why when presented with a CUP to operate something that the state guarantees (and county regs) that is disclosed at $400 I get charged $1000,

I am so done with the topic and will seek an attorney to get the county to comply with state law as they are not, unless they have changed the rules again and I did not know about it.

The audacity of the county manager to end his emails that we should not print them to save the world and yet all the paperwork, meetings, brain damage and actual construction materials that are wasted in this county as they feel that an ag operation is commercial or industrial and needs a CUP and more rigorous building codes to separate ag from commerce (which it is not) if it processes its products (again unless they have altered their rules in order to match state law, which makes the brain damage I have gone through, simply that massive frustrations and stress because of their misinterpretations of what is agricultural in nature) on farm.

Done talking about it, but if the county really is concerned with sustainability maybe they should review fees and the bureaucracy that one must go through in order to use their PRIVATE PROPERTY in ways which have little (the right to farm law in Colorado protects ag from frivolous lawsuits over smell, sound, etc.) to no impact (except visually) on others. Fine people who harm others property rights, that is what the constitution was intended for.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

Well, county hired a new building dept manager. Maybe you can get him to agree with you or maybe he can explain it to you

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 7 months ago

Finally did some research, and it cost nearly $200,000 seven years ago to install the solar panels which so far recouped $60,000 in energy credit and $24,000 in reduced electricity.

Only government could argue that is a good investment. That is an annual rate of return of 6% on equipment with a limited lifespan. With inflation, that means they will just about get their money back, without interest by the time it is to replace the current panels..

Though, since it was a grant and thus other people's money, it was always a good move for the county.

But county investing in solar is a completely different game if county is putting their money into it.

And btw, Lowe's home improvement online sells solar PV systems for $2,80 per watt. This olar farm is hardly the deal of a lifetime.

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