California’s Poorly Maintained Power Grid is Still Terrible

More than 270,000 California residents experienced a second round of rolling blackouts on Saturday. PG&E said rotating outages began around 6:30 p.m. Power was restored to most customers around 9 p.m., PG&E said.

California ISO declared a Stage 3 Electrical Emergency around 6:28 p.m. due to increased demand, as well as the loss of a 470-megawatt power plant. There was also the loss of nearly 1,000 MW of
wind power. The heat wave throughout the area increased electricity usage, leading to the strain on the power grid for the second night in a row.

The last time rolling power outages was ordered was in 2001. California ordered rolling power outages on Friday night due to high temperatures increasing electricity demand across the state. 70,000 people lost power in Los Angeles.

In 2019, millions in California had power outages due to fire and high winds. The power shutoffs were an attempt to prevent wildfires from being started by electrical equipment during strong and dry winds. The shutoffs initially affected around 800,000 customers, or about 2.5 million people but expanded to cause over 3 million people to lose utility-provided electrical power by late October as more utility companies from around the state also did preemptive power shutoffs.

Power outages because of air conditioner demand or because high winds can disrupt old poorly maintained power lines clearly shows that the power utilities and the state did not maintain the power grid and had poor planning.

Most developed countries do not have these pathetic electrical grid problems. Most US states do not have these electrical grid problems.

California has plenty of money to properly maintain its electric grid and forests. However, incompetent and greedy people have been allowed the electric grid and power systems to not have the capacity to handle obvious levels of heat and wind.

100 degree fahrenheit days are hot but they do happen for a time every few years.

California has a $202 billion annual budget.

California put aside $16 billion into a “rainy day fund”.

California needs to spend $10-30 billion fixing the electrical grid, building more power generation and managing the forests with controlled burns.

Apparently, California leadership is expecting something far worse than overgrown forests that cause wildfires that destroyed the entire town of Paradise. Also, they do not want to spend the money on fixing or expanding electrical grids that impacted hundreds of thousands to millions of people several years in a row.

Money should also be spent on building up capacity against Pandemics.

California has 1.8 hospital beds per 1000 people. This is 22nd place in the USA. South Dakota has 4.8 beds per 1000 people.

South Korea has 12.3 hospital beds per 1000 people.

SOURCES- KCRA, Wikipedia, State of California Budget
Written by Brian Wang,

65 thoughts on “California’s Poorly Maintained Power Grid is Still Terrible”

  1. “well…there are other ways like flywheels and compressed air.”

    If they were economical for the amount of capacity needed or efficient for the capacity needed (regardless of economic costs) we’d already have those systems. They’ve talked about things like this for a long time – maybe earlier with the oil embargo of the ’70s. I certainly recall seeing proposals for such in SciAm in the early ’90s.

    “The company claims the process, end to end, is 86 percent efficient, i.e., 86 percent of the energy that’s put into storage can be gotten back out. It hopes to improve that number as it dials in the technology.” You gotta use a LOT of electricity to move those slabs uphill. Coming back down, you’re going to have losses in conversion. I’d be surprised if you got 50% back.

    But… whatever. Maybe Goatguy would look at it and give his take. Wait – any Wiki on them? Ah. Nothing. Site? No updates since 2018. Looks like they had a proposal to do something in Nye County in 2018 – and that’s about the end of what I can find.

    Looking at a listing of businesses at the address below – they ain’t there no more, unless they were doing business under another name. Smells like they got money for a pilot program, took it and ran. Could be wrong, though..

    4333 Park Terrace Dr Suite 140
    Westlake Village, CA 91361

  2. Planning for the future gives way to the expedient satisfaction of activist groups… who don’t care about what comes after what they get just as long as they get what they want, and they get it now.

  3. Has nothing to do with green energy. Has to do with this weird idea that you shouldn’t spend money. When the economy crashed in 2008 there was this weird idea that suddenly came about that we shouldn’t spend money because we couldn’t afford it. Dumb idea. But it took hold in the utility industry and it is still there.

    The solution to the rolling blackout is to re-enforced the system by installing gas turbine units, installing energy storage units, and building more transmission facilities. And yes, the rate payers rates will go up.

  4. Solution is to spend money. Guess what no one wants to do. No one wants to spend money. If utilities spend money then rate payers rates will go up. Rate payers don’t want their rates to go up but they want their lights to stay on. Life is tough like than. Sometimes you have to deal with unpleasant things.

  5. “existing fertile soil of low scarcity,” is supplied by using and eventually going to O’Neill Space. It was never the actual circumstance for most life forms, for long. “the true libertarian” is actually easy to be, after the scarcity is solved, as one merely has to join the non aggression truce. But self organized repression has stalked our group for 7 million years. Otherwise, why have we evolved further after discovering fire, which makes us king of the beasts? Knowing that people free of this repression are libertarian is the main clue here.

  6. I fundamentally agree with this, except you need an existing fertile soil of low scarcity, pre-existing and maintained network of infrastructure, and an average minimal background level of civility in the locals, regionals, and in your more remote neighbours (adjacent states/ countries) to sustain a ‘live and let live mentality’ – i.e. essentially free of conflict. The more fundamental proto-type personality is the honourable Stoic – personified by the mid-west early Rancher – endlessly hard-working, absurdly reliable, and emotionally resilient, despite adversity and apparent hopelessness – after-school movie plot-lines would include recent loss of cattle and youngest child, but still gets up early in the morning to do chores and never has a harsh word for the dutiful wife; helps and emotionally supports the local townsfolk but still has to put out a burning barn fire, coyote attack on his livestock, and an unending drought – from such is the true libertarian – but can such a creature actually be base stock for a rich, diverse, urban-focussed, educated, and commodity-/experience-loving pro-consumerism culture – unsure. Sometimes, such personalities are best only as fringe demographics in an otherwise very inter-dependent, integrated system – as they are closer, mostly, to role models than cautionary tales.

  7. I did make that suggestion:

    “3.For public safety and electrical reliability in communities power lines in cities and suburbs need to be buried. And it makes sense to put in sidewalks at the same time. There is a lot of California without sidewalks. That contributes to road fatalities.
    I’d like to see machines developed that can do all this stuff quickly and cost effectively.”

  8. Show me the company with no plan that made it big and stayed there. The war-fighters with no plan and no contingencies that were victorious against comparable forces? No one had to tell me planning is smart. I play tournament chess. Even the octopus plans. Pack hunting animals plan. But it is your contention that government should be stupid? 
    It is you who have been deceived by those who say the US is where it is at because it did not plan. I got news for you…it succeeded because it did plan. The transcontinental rail road did not just happen…it was planned. D.C. is a planned city. Sewer systems did not spontaneously build themselves. The dams did not build themselves. Most of our breakthrough technology came from DARPA and government labs. Nuclear power did not develop itself. The highway interstates did not build themselves. Advancements in jet engines did not happen by themselves. Many breakthrough medical technologies came from government funded labs.
    And there are things the government did that few people know about today that were absolutely vital to our success like the US Heavy Press program:

  9. 1. Demonstrations by electric power companies have shown that methanol is a– superior fuel– for use in electric gas turbines than natural gas. And its much easier and safer to store. Methanol can also be converted into gasoline, dimethyl ether (a diesel fuel substitute), and jet fuel. Methanol also appears to be the marine fuel of the future.
    2. Using airships (like the France’s Flying Whale concept) should be used to remove dead trees from remote forested areas. The remaining biochar after pyrolysis into biofuel should be returned to the area where the tree was removed to enhance the areas fertility and water retention.

  10. How’s that “Train to Nowhere” money treating CA lately? CA has plenty of budget. What it lacks is appropriate priorities.

  11. California SB 1368 stipulated that investments are constrained to generating facilities which meet California’s newer standards as of 2006. Existing plants domestic and in other states would need be upgraded to meet those requirements, thus continue eligibility. Many of the coal fired plants in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah declined to upgrade as too costly, and were since retired in favor of adding solar power farms.

  12. The San Onofre closure was due to negligence or faulty/incompatible parts from Japan. There was the possibility of running the plant at a much lower level. I think I would have preferred that. But environmental groups sued, saying this was “experimental”…which, I suppose, it was.
    Conventional nuclear is not ideal at the coast in California. We do get serious earthquakes. I think we could still have nuclear in California just nearly at the State line to the east. Any quakes there would be minor.
    6 natural gas power plants have gone online in California since we lost San Onofre and closed most remaining coal plants.
    We have lost 5,000mW of natural gas, but just due to competition. We have gained a lot more solar. Though obviously it does not do much at night.
    Other than nuclear, I think we need more geothermal. Geothermal is reliable power. There are some emissions. But most of the good places for geothermal have low populations. Geothermal currently makes 5.5% of California power. We could probably easily bump that up to 15% and get the stability we need. It does require water though.

  13. “And yesterday, California had to impose rolling blackouts because it had failed to maintain sufficient reliable power from natural gas and nuclear plants, or pay in advance for enough guaranteed electricity imports from other states. It may be that California’s utilities and their regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, which is also controlled by Gov. Newsom, didn’t want to spend the extra money to guarantee the additional electricity out of fears of raising California’s electricity prices even more than they had already raised them.“

  14. I will take you serious the second you demand every hurricane prone region in the US convert to underground power lines.

  15. CA owns a bunch of generation in neighboring states. They don’t divert it, they have agreements. Due to environmental laws (CEQA) its cheaper for CA utilities to build in Nevada and Arizona, then work out sharing agreement.

  16. Next time a hurricane wipes out power for a week in a swath of the Southeast, lets write an article about how dumb they are for having above ground powerlines. Same, same, but different.

  17. Let’s compare CA record on power hrs loss per capita for all reasons to the rest of the US over the last 10 years. I bet its not in the bottom half.

  18. So I guess it’s complain about California day for Brian again? Did his power go out for a short bit? Was he inconvenienced? There are 49 other states in the USA if it’s so bad where he is. Also, I am sure power never goes out anywhere else, ever.

  19. There are indeed a lot of dead trees laying around. I think the best plan is to char them where they are (that is not burning), then burying that char right there. The point is that it prevents termites and bacteria and such from turning trees into methane which is a very destructive greenhouse gas. And by burying the char, we get carbon back in the ground.
    Just collecting the trees, and turning them into fuel removes the nutrients from the soil. You get 20-30 generations of trees before trees can’t grow anymore. Much less in the tropical rain forests (probably less than 5).
    Building nuclear near the eastern state line makes more sense. As does getting more electric cars and trucks. Maybe tripling the geothermal production makes sense as well. 
    Methanol is not a very good fuel.
    Biobutanol is more interesting. Close to the same energy density as gasoline (close to twice the energy density of methanol) and many cars can use it just like gasoline, as it is very simular.

  20. Apple computer was started in a garage by a nerd and a smelly hippie- But yes I get where you are coming from that we need to give smart people motivation to work their rears off and to do so year after year. That motivation is usually money.

  21. It is not a failing of “proper forest management” (the cry of the lumberjack wanting free lumber), it is the failure to get the appropriate equipment to put out fires, like big seaplanes.
    People live in the forests because they like trees. Cutting them all down is a baby out with the bathwater solution. And those trees are important carbon storage.

  22. The embrace of NOT planning is what would be moronic. Not planning, for example, is why we did so spactacularly with Coronavirus.
    “Nonsense Environmentalism” is why we can breathe now, and acid rain is not everywhere and why the rivers are not full of dead fish and catching on fire. 
    That is not to say that plans can’t be stupid, and some environmental ideas profoundly dim, but it is not the values of planning and environmental care in and of themselves that are a problem. It is the rejection of technology, convenience, the insistence/value in living an impoverished life by choice or force, the insistence that an environment is not healthy if it does not look like it did 500 years ago.
    You want no planning? Go to 600 year old European cities with a maze of narrow streets that require an hour to go 5 miles. That is what lack of planning gets you. Planning gets you Disneyland.

  23. Well they could stop spending money on illegal aliens. That would free up quite a few billion. Cali folks elected these leaders to make these decisions. I hope they enjoy them. L O L

  24. The plant should have an on-site generator required by law. Some of the smaller lift station may not be required to have a dedicated generator.

  25. It’s too bad California is forced to send so much money to red, taker states that could be used to upgrade their grid.

  26. Gotta love California’s marvelous intermittent green energy plan. The key word is intermittent, leading to rolling blackouts.

  27. Here is an excerpt from a different article than the one I read earlier, and it seems clearer (this from the Mercury News):

    ‘The spill occurred after power outages between 5 and 7 p.m., ordered by the California Independent System Operator, caused a pump to fail, EBMUD said Saturday.
    “This power outage caused failure of major equipment at the wastewater plant, including the ability for EBMUD to generate its own power on-site,” according to a statement from EBMUD on Saturday.’

    So there were two power failures — PG&E’s rotating outage power cut caused by the order from CA ISO, and that apparently somehow damaged backup generators the sewage treatment plant had, which presumably were intended to power the pumps in event of loss of power from PG&E. It isn’t clear whether a pump was somehow damaged by either power failure, or was just unable to run because of the lack of power. Later in the article, it mentions that flooding of the pump station occurred during the incident. Perhaps that flooding damaged the pump. Or perhaps that flooding is what kept the backup generators from running. Or perhaps both.

    At another point in the article, it mentions that this power cut was unexpected — that they usually get a warning. That seems to hint that the pumping station is not designed to recover from a loss of power that was not preceded by a warning from PG&E. I don’t know why they would design a pumping station that way.

  28. California also has one of the lowest rates of electricity consumption per capita in the country, thanks to its pleasant weather. But regional methanol microgrids are the long term solution.

  29. I agree with everything you say here. I will also mention that there was a referendum to splt the state into liberal and conservative parts. The referendum did not make it on the ballet because some parasite leftis group convinced a court to stop it. This court action alone convinced me that leftists have a “Berlin Wall” mentality about people getting away from them which, in turn, reinforces my conviction that leftism is nothing more than parasitism.

  30. There is insufficient generating capacity to supply all of California’s customers. This is not a transmission line related failure resulting in a rolling blackout scenario. Surrounding states lack capacity to divert electrical resources to California, as they are also experiencing critical grid demand related to the heat wave. California has brought this debacle upon themselves through plant closures of nuclear and natural gas facilities within the boundary of the state.

  31. Thanks. Don’t know what “A 470 MW plant suffered a casualty” means though. And why would they have scheduled maintenance when they had every reason to think this would be a high demand time. Come-on mid-August?

  32. Wind conditions were poor resulting in a reduction of about 1000 MW from that generating resource. Clouds over the solar farms in desert locations reduced that source of capacity. A 470 MW plant suffered a casualty just before 17:00 local time. Another 750 MW plant was offline for maintenance. Repairs were made to restore output from the 470MW facility, and the 750MW station was brought up to operational status by 20:00.

  33. I get suspicious when I read 2 power plants were “out of service”. Why would they be “out of service” during the biggest heat wave? Could it be they are hoping free Federal or State dollars will fall in their lap if they break the system? Why aren’t reporters doing their job? We should know by now why these power plants were down.

  34. Reporting is not what it used to be (they were using the term “plant” to refer to both the Power Plant and the Treatment Plant). Anyone know what happened to the power plant?

  35. I believe you have cause and effect reversed with regard to that power failure / sewage spill. The article I saw said that the power failure caused the failure at the sewage treatment plant, leading to untreated sewage being discharged into the bay.

  36. 1.We need large seaplanes to fight forest fires. We need to be able to scoop up large amounts of water and drop it on fires. Helicopters don’t cut it. And large runway based aircraft can’t be refilled quickly. Seaplanes can fill their water tanks without even landing on the water. They can just scoop it up in motion and head right back to the fire. Controlled burns mean more CO2, ugliness, loss of wildlife, poor air quality, increased erosion, chances of it getting out of control, and chances of deadly landslides. The airplanes are not that expensive and there are reservoirs all over they can refill at. If you have 20 or 30 big seaplanes then it just becomes a matter of detecting fires and getting those planes there with the water. AVIC AG600 Kunlong looks like just the thing.
    2.We need a 1 million volt power line running the length of California, so power can be moved where it is needed and with very little loss. Really, we need this all over the country. It should reach every State (lower 48, that is). Smaller States, it just needs to reach. Larger States it needs to go through (Texas, California, Florida).
    3.For public safety and electrical reliability in communities power lines in cities and suburbs need to be buried. And it makes sense to put in sidewalks at the same time. There is a lot of California without sidewalks. That contributes to road fatalities. I’d like to see machines developed that can do all this stuff quickly and cost effectively.

  37. This is not typical weather. Do you really want to pour dozens of billions of dollars into avoiding a few hours of inconvenience once in 10 years?
    And I don’t have the whole story, but from what I gather, some sort of sewage surge caused the power plant to go down. If it hadn’t, there would not have been a problem.
    So, if you ask me, they need to find out why there was a sewage issue and address that.
    I think it would still be nice to have energy storage. I like ARES (Advanced rail energy storage) That makes it easier to address sudden shortages. But I would only go for it, if it could be done economically. If they want to hold patents over people’s heads and gouge…well…there are other ways like flywheels and compressed air.
    Now storm/fire related stuff from a while ago. I would recommend large seaplanes to fight fires and high voltage towers high enough to lift the wires above the trees, and strong enough to withstand trees hitting them.

  38. I mean the larger *attitude* of libertarian (small ‘l’), exemplified by “live and let live”. People who succeed in Primal have this attitude, therefore all mentally healthy people are libertarian. This does not mean all people who call themselves libertarian actually are libertarian or, even if, healthy.

  39. Government regulators and their heavy hand put PG&E in this position. This is a regulated monopoly not a free market. I think this is exactly what the lefties in CA want. They hope this reflects bad on evil big business when in fact it is evil government.

  40. This is not a shortcoming of their system, it is the result government planning and nonsense environmentalism.

  41. Right now we have the governmental equivalent of a brown dwarf (PG&E) slowly decaying in to a black hole (CA state government). You think it is bad now? Wait till the state really runs the grid.

    Taxes paid by SoCal Edison customers will go to fixing the issues of NorCal (former) PG&E customers. That’s obviously unfair so to bring about fairness CA will have to take over SoCal power distribution too!

  42. #4: renewable energy which can be unreliable, forced retirement of nuclear
    #5: State regulators have a history of not approving all of PG&E’s rate requests
    #6: Broadly speaking the state of CA does not actually care about what happens more than 20 miles away from the cost. Central CA cities are third class citizens when it comes to regulations, rule of law, water, power, etc.

  43. Use less electricity or you will make GAIA angry. You think this is bad now? Wait till NorCal loses 2.2GW of clean nuclear baseload in 2024-2025 when Diablo canyon is phased out.

  44. True but when PG&E goes under the state will take them over and own the same power grid that they denied rate increases to improve.

  45. “Apparently, California leadership is expecting something far worse than overgrown forests that cause wildfires that destroyed the entire town of Paradise.”

    CA is scared of global warming. Global warming is caused by electricity. Best way to stop global warming is for CA to not use electricity.

  46. Methanol powered– microgrids– are the solution to California’s electric grid problem. Natural gas electric power plants are the cheapest and fastest power plants to build. And they can be easily and cheaply modified to use methanol. 

    Methanol can be conveniently stored for back up power production or even for peak load and base load electric power production. Methanol electric power plants also produce electricity more efficiently than power plants fueled with natural gas. If the CO2 from the flu gases from methanol electric power plants is recycled to produce more methanol then the system would be carbon neutral if using methanol derived from natural gas and carbon negative if the methanol is derived from renewable resources.

    Methanol can be produced from natural gas or from renewable sources of energy: nuclear, wind, solar, hydroelectric, and from urban and agricultural biomass and from the– 129 million dead trees lying around in California’s forest lands (most of California’s forest is owned by the Federal government).

  47. i guess that’s the Utility Bill version of ‘usury’. Us east-coast-ish people often look upon such as the Green/Blue-in-the-Sun curse (political ref).

  48. Current PG&E rates are among the highest in the nation. The default rate is a tiered rate plan where the marginal rate is 54 (!) cents per KWH.

  49. Well, I am inherently disappointed with Libertarians as they seem to be sulky individualists, bent on refusing the potential of a semi-centralized, ordered/ if-not-planned system whose main benefit is increasing the overall size of the wealth pie – putting aside the way it is distributed and what each person ‘should’ contribute. There is introversion and then there is anti-establishmentarianism. Further and Of course, currently, the rich are disproportionately enhanced/ enriched — but, you may as well compare the value of the income ratio of CEO/worker (100s+++ times) to Shepard/sheep – an apt, if embarrassing comparison, i admit. So how else to incentivize? Does one think that the average person of today, acting averagely, scaled up to 99% of the population would have created the current G7 countries’ wealth and tech. Absolutely not. We would be living in a 1940s/ 1950s level of tech (can be made/designed in a garage), wealth (annual salary based on 40-yr skill set development), and socio-economics (sprawling suburbs, industrial cities, and 30% small towns) – essentially Ford workers living coast-to-coast in Levittown clones).

  50. There are two causes to this problem. One, PGE has put off essential maintenance in order to provide more money for executive bonuses. Second, there is probably a massive affirmative action policy where much of PGE is now staffed with incompetent people. A third cause is wrong-headed environmental regulation that prevents proper forest management such as to prevent the massive fires that CA has been having the last few years.

  51. If by capitalism you mean the libertarian concept of the non violent market, you are rare. If you mean welfare for the rich, that is what we have!

  52. hmmm… as in assisting with “… neurosis as caused by the repressed pain of childhood trauma…” — possible, but Reagan and Thatcher pre-date me. But they symbolize, as I understand it, of such a profound slap to over-reaching Unions, mis-guided communal values, and other such ineffective ‘team-(slack)’ ing, that such a response, at such a level of harshness, is needed. I always considered it a temporary source of ‘tough love’ / ‘familial intervention’. There is nothing I want more than to break the increasingly ridiculous pendulum of ‘effective vs conscience’, but for immediate lack of a ‘common ground’ – shock therapy is needed. Winston Churchill: (to further his thought on Capitalism – the worst system, except for all Others) “…The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries…”

  53. Only a hit of the essentially-required Reagan-omics and Thatcher-ism needed to right this listing CA vessel.

  54. No worries. With strengthened holds of White House and Senate, and reduced weakness in the House after November — with some additional non-coastal State trifectas likely, very little chance of Blue seepage.

  55. Supplement the whole situation with massive rebates for on-site power source and grid sell-back, based on above-use capacity and likely a for-profit subscription service (especially new housing communities). Whatever happened to Musk solar-shingles? The bottom-line: re-deploying high value repair/ design/ management personnel (from in-state and out of) to hot-spots and preferred-connection sites – meaning overall system upgrades faster but at higher overall cost and emphasized service inequalities. Unfortunately, the only way to make real ‘value’ (not feel-good) change is to accept the trickle-down effect and incentivizing the most effective people – and that is done by privatizing and localizing the work (and reducing local opposition/ enviro review/ NIMBYism).

  56. I know this is redundant but you can only mismanage and over tax people so much. Eventually anyone making rational decisions leaves. Beaches are nice but not when filled with homeless or closed due to a cold virus. Kanye West moved to Cody Wyoming along with his business and saves $15 Million a year in taxes. When Kim Kardashian leaves the state you have jumped the shark. As always, we plead that Californians don’t bring their failed policies to the middle of the country.

  57. Brian, since you reside in Northern California, it’s obvious your ire is with PG&E. That being said, your title is incorrect. It should read,’PG&E’s poorly maintained power grid is still still terrible’. They own it. They’re responsible for upkeep and maintenance. Don’t muddle the facts.

  58. Though I don’t believe that the Free Market is the answer to all things nor that an overly centralized, moderately-regulated Utility is needed for all essential and otherwise region-wide service infrastructure, this situation is a particularly spectacular nonsense. It is somewhat about technology, but mostly about people. The people who run things, the people who fix/build things, and the entity which oversees the whole picnic. Since a G7 protestant-values (in the sense of work ethic) country is typically 75% sheep (those competent and reliable, but essentially passionless people) and 5% wolves (mostly hyper-competent and driven, but questionable ethics and motivations) – how can we mobilize an effective and scalable Utility? Many tiers of regional power sources pushed by: (1) localized private companies with quick-build, high-tech infrastructure (the last 50 miles’ people)(can be mod-nuke/ hydro/ local fossil)(25-50% baseload/ spikes and supplementary) – very dynamic, higher rates (more wolves, less sheep); (2) regional systems (50-100% baseload) with traditional systems and distribution, but not responsible for inter-node repairs/ upgrades – slow, low rates, massive man-power (more sheep, less wolves, most liability); and (3) localized private companies that fix/ upgrade the essential in-between distribution on an emergency/ premium rate basis. Pros: newer, faster upgrades/ repairs. Less severe conditions. Cons: emergencies and high-rate clients first. Overall rates go up.

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