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Invest in Renewable Energy. Fight Climate Change. Mike Silvestrini of Energea
Episode 15824th January 2022 • Your Positive Imprint • Catherine Praiswater
00:00:00 00:30:18

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Renewable energy global enviro-capitalist Mike Silvestrini provides a business perspective on renewable energy worldwide. Fight climate change. Invest in and accelerate renewable energy so that we can turn off the carbon emitting, fossil burning infrastructure that we currently rely on.  


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Transcripts

Mike Silvestrini:

The hard part about conservation is you have to be successful for eternity for it to matter at all.

Mike Silvestrini:

It only really matters if it works forever.

Catherine:

Well, hello,

Catherine:

thank you so much for listening to all of these amazing and exceptional, positive imprints.

Catherine:

Well, I'm Catherine, your host for the podcast, your positive imprint, the variety show, featuring people all over the world whose positive actions are inspiring positive achievements.

Catherine:

Exceptional people rise to the challenge.

Catherine:

Music by the talented Chris Nole., check out his music and learn so much more about his background.

Catherine:

Download his music and also some of his written compositions for piano.

Catherine:

For the podcast, Chris composed elevated intentions, a perfect title, Chris's music may be found at ChrisNole.com.

Catherine:

that's c h r i s n o l e

Catherine:

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

Enjoy the show and get inspired to activate your own positive imprint.

Catherine:

Your positive imprint.

Catherine:

What's your PI.

Catherine:

Mike Silvestrini's life changed.

Catherine:

He joined up with the Peace Corps and spent time in Africa as a small enterprise development officer.

Catherine:

During his time in Africa, he observed the extreme need to protect precious ecosystems and wildlife.

Catherine:

He calls himself an enviro capitalist because he sees a need for big business, small business, you and me to invest in renewable energy around the world.

Catherine:

Mike Silvestrini welcome to the show.

Catherine:

Hey,

Mike Silvestrini:

Catherine.

Mike Silvestrini:

Thanks for having me.

Mike Silvestrini:

You know, I think it started off, Catherine as a just a love affair with traveling and experiencing different cultures and hanging out with other travelers and, seeing different places, at a young age, it

Mike Silvestrini:

And then those road trips became a multi-month adventures.

Mike Silvestrini:

And then I moved to Colorado to do a snowboard season when I was 19 and then met an Australian girl there.

Mike Silvestrini:

And then we wound up traveling around the world for some time, a couple of years.

Mike Silvestrini:

Landed in Australia.

Mike Silvestrini:

And it's sort of the, that sort of chain reaction of life events that occurred during your youth, during those, those 20s

Mike Silvestrini:

was so impactful to me and I just wanted to keep it going and keep on exploring and keep seeing and learning.

Mike Silvestrini:

And I tried to figure out ways that what types of lifestyles would allow me to professionalize my life as I grow and you know, want to eventually have a job and a family, but still

Mike Silvestrini:

And that kind of forced me to think about international diplomacy, which is what I studied in grad school and led to basically starting the solar energy company because it was through my studies

Mike Silvestrini:

Maybe we need to take a step back and look what are the current events in the world saying to us?

Mike Silvestrini:

And we had the Nobel prize going to the scientific community who proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that climate change was a significant concern for humanity.

Mike Silvestrini:

We had two conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Mike Silvestrini:

and Iraq was certainly a, to no small degree related to fossil fuels.

Mike Silvestrini:

And it just seemed that something needed to change in the way that we energize ourselves.

Mike Silvestrini:

So I started off with this idea of traveling forever and somewhere along the way, discovered renewable energy as my life path.

Mike Silvestrini:

And only now have I been able to circle back and connect the dots on those two, Energea where I'm able to travel and explore the world

Mike Silvestrini:

and I do so in the capacity as an investment advisor for our clients who want to invest in renewable energy.

Mike Silvestrini:

So I get the best of both worlds.

Catherine:

His philosophy on how he views the world is extraordinary.

Catherine:

He begins his Energea story with his schooling and how he uses his diplomacy background as an enviro capitalist in solar energy.

Catherine:

He is transitioning the planet forward in the investment and use of solar energy and other renewable energies worldwide.

Mike Silvestrini:

A lot of schooling especially in grad school, in, what could be closely resembling a poly sci type of field of study, which is international relations.

Mike Silvestrini:

I had a special concentration in African history and French.

Mike Silvestrini:

So it's a lens that you're developing.

Mike Silvestrini:

A lens through, which you can view the world

Mike Silvestrini:

not exclusively as a white male born in Connecticut, but just as a member of history and a participant in a global society.

Mike Silvestrini:

And I've always tried to get that lens, right.

Mike Silvestrini:

And to balance my own views, which are obviously strong and cultural in myself.

Mike Silvestrini:

But with, something closer to reality, which is a blended view and perspective of, of many different countries.

Mike Silvestrini:

School helps you dive deep into that and write and read extensively on these cultures from a very academic perspective.

Mike Silvestrini:

And it just accelerated my traveling experiences and there's nothing that can replace going there and eating the food and, touching the sand and like being part of

Mike Silvestrini:

But, , you can certainly Also learn a lot from picking up a book and reading about the history of another country.

Mike Silvestrini:

So I still, built my global framework from academics, but I complimented that with a lot of real life travel.

Mike Silvestrini:

And I think those two things have made me a, a global businessperson and now I'm able to take those perspectives and apply them to an entrepreneurial journey

Mike Silvestrini:

where for me, it was quite clear that renewable energy and wildlife conservation were going to be two industries that I wanted to be part of.

Mike Silvestrini:

Two things that must thrive to have a longterm sustainable world and, and relationship with the world.

Mike Silvestrini:

So, that became obvious to me because of those traveling and that synthesis of global perspectives.

Catherine:

On last week's episode, number 157, protecting and preserving wildlife in east Africa Mike shared his experience in Mali.

Catherine:

To continue the story here's a quick recap.

Mike Silvestrini:

Republic du Mali.

Mike Silvestrini:

It's a French speaking country.

Mike Silvestrini:

Their main language is Bombora, but it was a French colony.

Mike Silvestrini:

And it's an ancient culture.

Mike Silvestrini:

It is an extremely poor country, but it is also one of the happiest places I've ever been, which was bizarre- what a juxtaposition of characteristics of a place simultaneously being the second or

Mike Silvestrini:

, And just having a laughter based culture.

Mike Silvestrini:

They have really strong communities and societies in Mali that I think was probably overlooked by whoever views it as just a scary poor place.

Catherine:

Mali does have farming, and I know that people in Africa are and this will bring us into climate change into Energia, your company.

Catherine:

People who live in these countries, their carbon footprint is so small yet they are reaping the unfortunate climate change

Catherine:

based on our decisions and our legislation in these Western world countries like United States.

Mike Silvestrini:

Mali is suffering from desertification as the Sahara desert kind of extends its way southward into a region we call the Sahel, which is in-between

Mike Silvestrini:

Uh, Even Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, these countries are all along the strip we call the Sahel and there's increased pressure I don't know if I'm qualified to equate the increased desertification directly to climate

Mike Silvestrini:

grow things sustainably and to harvest their natural resources sustainably and have themselves encouraged the acceleration of desertification, which has crippling effects on economy, which results in increased violence.

Mike Silvestrini:

And um, it's been.

Mike Silvestrini:

Uh, Shame to after returning from Mali to look back over the course of the last 15 years and watch it really descend into chaos where Islamification has extreme,

Mike Silvestrini:

when I was last in Mali and to see that desertification increased poverty, you know, start to take its toll on, on the society.

Mike Silvestrini:

So environment and the people who live there are inextricable forces and th that's kind of the message that I think is the most important takeaway from Mali is that,

Catherine:

Very profound words.

Catherine:

And so that certainly brings us into Energia the company that you co-founded to move renewable energy forward uh, which I'm really, to be honest with you, this is 2021.

Catherine:

I lobbied Congress in 2000.

Catherine:

I think it was five, was with the committee, the, the oil and gas committee and bringing information to them

Catherine:

. And Mike, that was what, almost 15 years ago.

Catherine:

I don't know why it's taking so long.

Catherine:

Well, let's talk about you and Energia, and why you started this.

Mike Silvestrini:

Well, I mean for, for one Catherine, I got some good news for you.

Mike Silvestrini:

You know, being in the renewable energy industry, I joined in 2007 by creating my first company called Green Skies, which was a solar developer.

Mike Silvestrini:

We would develop projects and sell the power produced from those projects to commercial and industrial customers, mostly big box retail customers like Walmart Target and Amazon who are our customers, as we would

Mike Silvestrini:

We also did a number of landfill projects, which are some of my favorite projects we did in that company where we blanket landfills with solar panels to turn that real estate into a new use.

Mike Silvestrini:

Colleges and universities, and even utilities were our customers and the reality is is that renewable energy very much is taking off.

Mike Silvestrini:

It's not taking off at the scale and speed that we need it to, but it's actually somewhat remarkable.

Mike Silvestrini:

Year over year now in the United States there is more renewable energy installed than any other type of fossil fuel installed.

Mike Silvestrini:

There's more solar than there is natural gas, new capacity every year

Mike Silvestrini:

now for several years in a row.

Mike Silvestrini:

There's more wind and solar than all the fossil fuels combined.

Mike Silvestrini:

There's almost no new coal.

Mike Silvestrini:

There hasn't been a new coal plant I believe this is a true statement in maybe one of your listeners can fact check this, but I don't think there's been a new coal plant put online in the United States in 20 years.

Mike Silvestrini:

So there, there's quite a bit of a transition going on.

Mike Silvestrini:

We call that the energy transition and it's the industry that we're part of.

Mike Silvestrini:

And it's getting there, but it's not fast enough, right?

Mike Silvestrini:

So, how do we speed this thing up to give you some numbers?

Mike Silvestrini:

You know, we believe that we need approximately one and a half trillion dollars a year of new wind and solar projects.

Mike Silvestrini:

And right now there's currently about three to 400 billion a year.

Mike Silvestrini:

So we're getting three to 400 billion out of our one and a half trillion dollar target actually mobilized.

Mike Silvestrini:

And this is based off of the conversion rate necessary to energize the world in the way we currently live in it- in time to prevent two degrees of climate change.

Mike Silvestrini:

Pre-industrial climate change.

Mike Silvestrini:

So, we're not even close to on pace with what we need for these projects.

Mike Silvestrini:

And I think also there's a lot of greenwashing out there and people will say, oh, we're investing.

Mike Silvestrini:

There's big, huge commitments from banks and finance here is incorporates.

Mike Silvestrini:

But they're buying Hocus Pocus sustainable products.

Mike Silvestrini:

The only way to really do this is to build more solar and wind assets.

Mike Silvestrini:

We need more of those things so that we can turn off the carbon emitting, fossil burning infrastructure that we currently rely on.

Mike Silvestrini:

So it's really binary.

Mike Silvestrini:

Energia we S we started thinking about this number one, there's a lot of projects around the world that were not getting financial nourishment.

Mike Silvestrini:

We felt that there are some premium project opportunities in Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mike Silvestrini:

Places even like Europe, south Asia, and even certain markets in the United States that were considered unbankable by the very few select financeers who were engaged in the renewable energy investing space.

Mike Silvestrini:

So we felt that there was a need for a new type of financial technology here where we could summon capital from the retail investor community.

Mike Silvestrini:

Like what we just saw happen with Bitcoin You know, if we can see a trillion dollars move into Bitcoin, wouldn't it be great if we could move

Mike Silvestrini:

We would like to see that.

Mike Silvestrini:

And and we're testing the consciousness of our culture here and whether or not people are good at complaining about climate change, are they going to open up their wallets and, and invest?

Mike Silvestrini:

So we made the investment minimum only a hundred dollars.

Mike Silvestrini:

And then we started assembling projects from these undernourished segments of the renewable energy marketplace.

Mike Silvestrini:

Everything from a school system in Connecticut, which would be too small of a project for Goldman Sachs to project with Anchor Foods, a food manufacturer

Mike Silvestrini:

for example in our Africa portfolio.

Mike Silvestrini:

It's a good customer.

Mike Silvestrini:

It's a good project.

Mike Silvestrini:

It needs to get built.

Mike Silvestrini:

There is not an existing financeers for it so we created this new channel Energia, so that individuals can be the new source of capital for these projects.

Catherine:

Mike provides a short worldwide history, pros and cons on the investments of early and present day.

Catherine:

Renewable energy.

Catherine:

When I was doing my lobbying.

Catherine:

I did so much research and I found that Jimmy Carter had funded

Catherine:

I think it was a 20 year period of research and development in renewable energy.

Mike Silvestrini:

Jimmy Carter did do quite a bit for specifically solar and he was a big fan of solar energy.

Mike Silvestrini:

If you go to our US portfolio and watch our video, that explains the U S portfolio, we quote Jimmy Carter a couple of times.

Mike Silvestrini:

He puts solar panels on them on the white house.

Catherine:

Reagan

Mike Silvestrini:

took them down and then Reagan took them down.

Mike Silvestrini:

And he also just kaboshed any, any uttering of the word renewables was not going to be his thing.

Mike Silvestrini:

So I think that you can fairly say that the Reagan administration did not really support

Mike Silvestrini:

renewables, but you can't say that across the table for the Republican party because George Bush, the guy who started uh, EPACT 05 (ENERGY POLICY ACT OF 2005).

Mike Silvestrini:

2005 created what we now have in the United States is a solar energy industry by creating the investment tax credit which is still going strong today, which it did that all came under Bush.

Mike Silvestrini:

And then another thing is a lot of the early technology and this was it, late seventies, early eighties.

Mike Silvestrini:

And then all the way through through the last century to the end of the last century.

Mike Silvestrini:

The vast majority of development work happening in renewable energy was being undertaken by the fossil fuel companies.

Mike Silvestrini:

In fact one of my good friends and sort of a legend of our industry, and now the head of the department of renewable energy loan guarantee program in in Washington, his name is Jigar Shah.

Mike Silvestrini:

Jigar learned about renewable energy while an executive at BP and BP for a very long time was the only game in town for people sincerely searching for ways of deploying solar energy technology.

Mike Silvestrini:

Chevron was a major early investor in

Mike Silvestrini:

solar energy technologies.

Mike Silvestrini:

I didn't know if you were aware of that, but the fossil fuel industries they are the the first dynasty of renewable energy, R and D enterprises.

Mike Silvestrini:

And only years later, did we start to see original private sector groups, you know, starting up in renewables like startups and stuff.

Mike Silvestrini:

And that really happened like around when I started green skies, like 2007, 2006, 2010, that timeframe is really the first venture capitalist, call it clean tech 1.0.

Mike Silvestrini:

That period of time is when you no longer needed to be an executive at BP to have the resources in order to create a solar company, you could actually just create a solar company and there would be investors

Mike Silvestrini:

uh, in the venture capital community who would help finance and fund those types of businesses.

Catherine:

Jimmy Carter funded R and D there was no legislation put in.

Catherine:

So you're saying that really, we need legislation around the world so that things can move forward, because it seems like the public won't move forward

Catherine:

if there is no legislation, is that what I'm hearing?

Mike Silvestrini:

Yes and no.

Mike Silvestrini:

I would say that in the United States we chose to use a policy of tax credits to move our deployment of renewable energy industry forward.

Mike Silvestrini:

Now, this is completely separate from the R and D side and many good ideas tools that we use every day in the renewable energy industry were developed by the United States

Mike Silvestrini:

We have the national renewable energy laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

Mike Silvestrini:

It's a whole laboratory exclusively set up to figure out how to use renewable energy technologies responsibly and make those technologies bankable.

Mike Silvestrini:

So huge props to those early initial advancements, courtesy of our tax dollars, but those were never really put in place to actually deploy the technology and to commercialize the technology.

Mike Silvestrini:

For that we rely on the private sector.

Mike Silvestrini:

And the private sector.

Mike Silvestrini:

It's really simple.

Mike Silvestrini:

We all like to be able to flip the switch and turn the light on, and we want the cheapest form of electricity to be on the other side of that bill, that electric bill.

Mike Silvestrini:

And so for a little while there, solar was not the cheapest and we needed to subsidize it so that it could compete with fossil fuels.

Mike Silvestrini:

And that made a lot of sense.

Mike Silvestrini:

So we had multiple policies, usually state by state.

Mike Silvestrini:

Every state was its own Rubik's cube of grants and tax credits and, and various configurations uh, feed-in-tariffs, renewable energy credits; all sorts of different types of things.

Mike Silvestrini:

All those sat subordinate to a federal level policy called the ITC, the investment tax credit, which basically says, if you spend a million dollars

Mike Silvestrini:

So that encouraged more investors to invest in these projects, which brought the cost down, which allowed it to compete with fossil fuels for energy customer base.

Mike Silvestrini:

So that tax credit is what came in under EPact 05 was the name of the bill under George Bush 2.

Mike Silvestrini:

And today is still the backbone of the U S policy.

Mike Silvestrini:

But I can't say that I really a huge fan of it anymore because what's happened is because we had that tax credit.

Mike Silvestrini:

It allowed us to go and adulterate the market by adding tariffs.

Mike Silvestrini:

We actually charge a tremendous tariff at the port, when we import solar panels that are manufactured in, China.

Mike Silvestrini:

Makes no sense to me.

Mike Silvestrini:

We want to have more renewable energy, don't we?

Mike Silvestrini:

Then let's buy the cheapest panels around, which are all coming from China.

Mike Silvestrini:

We should tip our hats to the Chinese.

Mike Silvestrini:

Thank them for making this critical technology

Mike Silvestrini:

so darn cost-effective and by the ever living heck out of it instead we, you know, this these tariffs were put in place by Obama first and then continued in increased under Trump.

Mike Silvestrini:

There are three or four different tariffs, and in fact, they just had big legislation for us, solar guys, the International trade commission decided to

Mike Silvestrini:

And our industry was begging them to relieve it because if we got rid of the tariffs on the solar panels, then we wouldn't need the tax credit and we would just have a more

Mike Silvestrini:

And that's all we need is just freedom to do that.

Mike Silvestrini:

You go to places like Brazil and it's more famously avoid of renewable energy policy.

Mike Silvestrini:

And it's, it's much more natural and we compete handedly.

Mike Silvestrini:

We create projects called Community Solar.

Mike Silvestrini:

So we'll build, you know, a 50 acre solar array, and then we'll sell that power to a hundred to a thousand different, small businesses that are geographically near that plant.

Mike Silvestrini:

We love that.

Mike Silvestrini:

That's the way to go.

Mike Silvestrini:

And all of that really requires is for the government , should mandate that utility companies, which are mostly privately held throughout the world are obligated to allow for that.

Mike Silvestrini:

They can't ban solar.

Mike Silvestrini:

You have to be able to allow renewable energy to compete.

Mike Silvestrini:

And other than that, stay the heck out of it.

Mike Silvestrini:

And I think that that is the recipe for success.

Mike Silvestrini:

And we're seeing it now in South Africa a major market starting to emerge where they realize that they are based off of coal.

Mike Silvestrini:

It's one of the dirtiest energy mixes in the world of south Africa's Eskom utility.

Mike Silvestrini:

They just, you know, kind of got embarrassed in Scotland and it's time for them to allow for a free market interruption of this coal monopoly with new

Catherine:

goodness.

Catherine:

What an historical interest here and hearing this from a business perspective.

Catherine:

Now what about Europe?

Mike Silvestrini:

They don't have anywhere near as much capacity installed as we do.

Mike Silvestrini:

Germany has a per capita success story going on where about 53% of their total electric mix comes from renewables.

Mike Silvestrini:

So profound success there.

Mike Silvestrini:

But as a whole, and you know, England did a very nice job.

Mike Silvestrini:

Spain is kind of famous sort of, what not to do renewable energy story though.

Mike Silvestrini:

I'll give you an example.

Mike Silvestrini:

So what Europe did they moved first.

Mike Silvestrini:

Long after Jimmy Carter in the research and the proof of the technology, the first country to really take a run at it was Germany.

Mike Silvestrini:

Germany created a policy called a feed-in tariff.

Mike Silvestrini:

And a feed-in-tariff basically says.

Mike Silvestrini:

Anybody who installs solar panels can sell electricity from those solar panels to the utility company.

Mike Silvestrini:

And the utility company is obligated to buy it at a certain rate.

Mike Silvestrini:

They have to.

Mike Silvestrini:

So you know that all of your electricity produces pre-sold before you even buy the solar panels and install them on your roof or on the ground or anywhere

Mike Silvestrini:

And they would set the, the feed-in-tariff rate at a rate that, that the regulators felt would give an adequate return on investment for investors to start buying solar

Mike Silvestrini:

Versus the current costs of the things and it was wildly expensive, but also wildly successful and really commercialized solar for the very first time of any scale.

Mike Silvestrini:

It was really an amazing thing.

Mike Silvestrini:

And that's what I was studying when I was getting into the industry in the early two thousands, those were the case studies, like what is Germany doing?

Mike Silvestrini:

And then Spain decided to do it.

Mike Silvestrini:

They created a feed-in-tariff, but Spain did the one thing you shall not do, which is five years or so after creating this feed-in-tariff policy, and after people had invested billions

Mike Silvestrini:

Yeah.

Mike Silvestrini:

We're not gonna do that.

Mike Silvestrini:

And the investor said, well, I just bought a hundred million dollar solar energy project because you told me that you were going to buy all the power for a certain

Mike Silvestrini:

So all those projects went bankrupt and they completely hammered the industry for many years.

Mike Silvestrini:

I had to explain to banks and financeers with whom I was working to install projects in the United States about why I was so darn confident that Massachusetts wouldn't pull a

Mike Silvestrini:

And at the end of the day, you know, there was nothing really preventing Massachusetts from doing that other than the fact that, good economies don't do that.

Mike Silvestrini:

If you retrade on government promises, People will stop doing business in your country.

Mike Silvestrini:

And to this day, I still see deals from Spain, come across my desk from time to time.

Mike Silvestrini:

But I always have to think about, the old feed-in-tariff days and the days at which Spain, pulled the rug out underneath investors in renewables in the early days.

Mike Silvestrini:

That's just some old industry stories.

Mike Silvestrini:

If you're

Catherine:

interested.

Catherine:

Oh, I'm always interested in what's happening in the world.

Catherine:

Educates me because there are stories, obviously, that I'm not going to be able to pick up a book and read about.

Catherine:

I'm interested in solar and we did put up our solar panels many, many years ago.

Catherine:

Well, Mike Silvestrini, this has been so informative with all of the information that you have provided and I appreciate it.

Catherine:

You of course are helping with the acceleration of renewable energy development worldwide.

Catherine:

And that is commendable along with the preservation and conservation of wildlife and ecosystems.

Catherine:

So Mike Silverstein, if you could let people know where they can find you

Mike Silvestrini:

thank you so much for having me, Catherine really appreciate the show and what you do here to spread these kinds of stories and to give experiences like mine mine a stage to be told.

Mike Silvestrini:

And I'm easiest to find at my email address, which is mike@energea.com.

Mike Silvestrini:

E N E R G E A.com.

Mike Silvestrini:

And we hope that some of your listeners check out the website and for those who feel compelled to do so, maybe even make a, an investment into a renewable energy project that promises to pay dividends for decades to come.

Catherine:

Mike Silvestrini thank you so much for being here on your positive imprint,

Catherine:

Well, I'm a believer that we all need to do our part for the transition into renewable energy.

Catherine:

Well, next week's guests are from Australia and we're going to have a chat about the right to repair legislation in Australia and worldwide.

Catherine:

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

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Catherine:

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