Vote Solar Bringing Solar to the Mainstream Sat, 22 Nov 2014 17:28:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Wisconsin offers a good example of bad solar rate design Fri, 21 Nov 2014 21:25:22 +0000 Last week, the Wisconsin PSC voted two to one to approve fairly drastic rate change proposals from We Energies that will make it more difficult and expensive for customers to go solar.   The proposed changes, approved without apparent modification, include:

  • increasing the monthly flat customer charge by 66%,
  • dramatically reducing the compensation for any excess electricity that a solar customer sends back to the grid
  • imposing a significant charge to customers that invest in their own solar generating systems

This is a good example of electric rate design gone bad. WE asked the Commission for approval to increase its $9.66 per month customer charge to $16, among the highest in the nation. This fixed fee remains the same no matter how much energy a customer does or doesn’t use – whether that’s the result of conservation or self-generation through solar. So now WE Energies has a high fixed fee that does nothing to encourage efficient energy consumption, meanwhile, the price of electricity itself from WE Energies is low. Message to consumers? – energy is cheap, use lots of it!

Specific to solar customers, WE will now also be severely undervaluing solar energy that they deliver to the grid. A 2009 study of that WE itself commissioned found that distributed solar generation is worth about 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, but the newly-approved marginal rate proposal allows WE to pay customers just 20% of that value. 20%!!. A far cry from fair compensation for their valuable distributed clean energy.

To make matters worse, WE proposed to charge solar customers $3.79 for every kW of solar installed each month. A customer that installs a 5 kW system will be forced to pay almost $230 more every year.  Even customers that consume 100% of their generation on site and never send any electricity back to the grid are hit with this charge. Unsurprisingly, the utility was unable to demonstrate any increased cost imposed by solar for which this discriminatory charge was necessary.

Let’s be clear. Wisconsin has all of 300 solar customers, producing about 3/100ths of one percent of WE’s sales – hardly enough to present a real threat to WE Energies cost recovery. Yet now, WE Energies will be allowed to charge solar customers well beyond what it costs to serve them. These rate changes effectively prop up government regulated monopoly utilities against those few customers that attempt to make the only real choice they have in the electricity market – investing their own hard-earned money into generating their own power.

Rate design is complex, changing and has a tremendous impact on consumer solar investment. It’s not easy to get right (although WE Energies failed to do so with particular aplomb), but it’s oh so important to do so. To that end, we worked with Environment America, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Greenpeace, Pace Energy and Climate Center, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center to identify six guiding principles that ensure fairness for all customers during this significant transition in our electricity infrastructure.  We encourage policymakers and stakeholders to adhere to these principles of sound electric rate design.

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Florida Should Preserve and Improve Solar Rebate Program Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:58:27 +0000 TakeActionJust a few weeks ago we circulated a petition urging our state leaders to support policies that encourage more solar development in Florida across the board. Shortly after – FPL announced plans to develop 225 MW of utility owned solar without the approval of the commission. It seems like FPL knows that solar is good for their business – heck their sister company Nextera Energy Resources has one of the largest development pipelines in the world – they know solar.

While we love an announcement to build enough solar to power over 27,000 homes – especially here in the Sunshine State – we also have to point out that the coalition of monopoly utilities are fighting to kill the rooftop solar rebates designed to promote solar ownership. While FPL pulls MW out of a hat the real trick is happening at the Florida Public Service Commission. Sleight of hand if you will.

Affordable solar power is ready to put Floridians in charge of our power sources and utility bills like never before. It’s ready to build a healthier, more resilient, more secure energy mix for our state.

I’m not naive – Florida’s rebate programs have been a perennial disaster. The state run program left thousands of home and business owners unpaid and the Utility run programs have actually increased incentives over time as solar prices declined.

It’s high time for a smart rebate program that predictably decreases over time can help consumers like you invest with confidence in solar power while putting the local solar industry on a growth path to zero state incentives. Florida should be working to build that kind of strong, self-sustaining new energy economy – not slamming the brakes on progress by ending the Solar Pilot program.

The simple answer is that for over a century, these same monopoly companies have made guaranteed profits by building big power plants – and having their customers harness free sunshine is a threat to their old way of business. Even if a few of them have figured out that building big solar plants is awesome for their business we can’t let the interests of a few power companies outshine the rest of us.

Right now, our utilities have the ear of state regulators at the Commission on this issue – which is why it’s so important for you to speak up. If you live in Florida, urge your Commission to stand strong for energy choice and solar progress by protecting and improving our Solar Pilot program.

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Freeing the Grid: States Remain Strong on Consumer Clean Energy Policies Thu, 13 Nov 2014 16:28:58 +0000 Vote Solar and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) today released the 2014 edition of Freeing the Grid, a policy guide that grades all 50 states on two key clean energy programs: net metering and interconnection procedures. Together these policies empower energy customers to use rooftop solar and other small-scale renewables to meet their own electricity needs.

Now in its eighth year of publication, the report shows that over the past year, states nationwide have generally upheld and in some cases strengthened these pillars of consumer clean energy investment. Considering the overwhelming number of attempts by traditional power interests to weaken net metering over the past year, this is a major win for consumer choice and energy innovation. It’s heartening to see regulators nationwide – in red states and blue – stand strong for solar progress by upholding these important policies.


Freeing the Grid: Net metering & interconnection from Freeing the Grid on Vimeo.

With strong state renewable energy policy leading the way, entrepreneurs, businesses and customers are successfully transforming our nation’s energy landscape for the better. “Affordable clean energy is driving change and innovation in our nation’s electric sector, the likes of which have not been seen in more than a century. Freeing the Grid is intended to be the steady guide for state regulators and others who are working to navigate the changing utility landscape and unleash the benefits of local clean energy,” said Jane Weissman, President and CEO of IREC, our trusted partner on Freeing the Grid.

“These policies help put people, not polluters, in control of energy decision-making. They empower individuals to go solar and they help create new, good jobs. They also help cut carbon pollution and climate change, which disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income families. We hope to see even more states adopting strong net metering and interconnection policies that support the cleaner, healthier and more just energy economy that so many Americans want,” added Jeremy Hays, Executive Director of Green For All.

With that, 2014 report highlights include:

Net Metering Grades:

This policy ensures that renewable energy customers receive full credit on their utility bills for valuable clean power they put back on the grid. There were no declines in state grades over the past year, a significant outcome considering the many attacks on net metering across the country from utilities aiming to stifle solar adoption. 

In total, more than two-thirds of U.S. states now qualify for good ‘A’ or ‘B’ grades in this important clean energy policy. Two states that already held high “A’ grades, Vermont and Massachusetts, raised their program caps to further expand consumer access to net metering’s bill-saving benefits. The news is timely as the Massachusetts‘ first Solar Task Force meeting is also convening today to chart a long-term path forward on net metering in the state, an outcome of that same legislation that bumped up the otherwise looming program cap. We hope to see the Bay State shine yet again as an outcome of this process.

“Massachusetts is leading the way on solar, in part, because policies like net metering provide everyone access to the benefits of this renewable energy technology,” said DeWitt Jones, President of Boston Community Capital’s solar affiliate, which develops and owns solar projects in low income communities. “Equitable access to solar maximizes the potential to use the technology to help build healthier and more resilient communities and address the energy affordability challenges created by rising and volatile energy prices.”

Interconnection Procedure Grades:

These are the rules and processes that an energy customer must follow to be able to ‘plug’ their renewable energy system into the electricity grid. This process should be straightforward, transparent and fair. Ohio notably improved its procedures, improving its grade to an ‘A.’ Half of U.S. states receive good ‘A’ or ‘B’ grades, and the remaining are in need of improvement.

Head of the Class:

A record number of five states achieved excellence in both net metering and interconnection policies this year: California, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon and Utah.

California, far and away our nation’s solar leader, is another market where we hope policymakers keep its successful clean energy programs shining for the long-term. The Commission is currently deciding the future of the state’s net metering program – and the utilities pushing hard to weaken it. Along with many allies, we urge the Commission to continue to ensure that consumers continue to receive full, fair credit for their valuable solar investment.

This year’s report delves into a number of related pressing issues in the current regulatory landscape. We discuss the problematic rise in utility proposals to add discriminatory fixed charges to residential net metered customers. We explore the proud American tradition of energy self-determination, which is reflected in the decades-old federal law, PURPA. And we cover the rise of shared renewables models as a way to further expand solar access within the community.

We are in period of unprecedented change and innovation in the U.S. energy market and associated regulatory landscape. In the eight years of Freeing the Grid’s production, there has never been a time when these policies have been the subject of as much public attention and debate as today. This report is designed to be an objective resource that helps policymakers, regulators and stakeholders cut through the noise, implement strong regulation, and build upon the exciting clean energy progress that so many states have achieved to date.

“Sound net metering and interconnection procedures are some of the primary state policies driving growth in the American clean energy story today. I hope to see Freeing the Grid used to spark productive policy discussion and sound regulatory decision-making that keeps the United States moving forward on clean energy,” added Carl Linvill, principal at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), a global, non-profit team of experts that focuses on the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of the power and natural gas sectors.

We hope you’ll explore, use and share this resource to advance our nation’s clean energy economy – state by state.


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Will California Protect Customers’ Right to Self-Generate? Tue, 11 Nov 2014 21:52:10 +0000 Should you be able to reduce the amount of energy you buy from your utility by generating your own power?  Or does a utility have the right to demand that you buy all your power from them, even if you have a solar system on your roof?

This question is at the heart of California’s new proceeding to determine the future of net metering in the state.  In comments to the California Public Utilities Commission in October, California’s three big investor-owned utilities argue that net metering should be unavailable to new customers after the current 5% program cap is reached, and that customers should have to move to a ‘buy all-sell all’ feed-in tariff (FiT) instead.  Customers who want to go solar after 2016, the utilities argue, should no longer be allowed under state law to reduce the utility-generated energy they buy by generating their own renewable energy onsite. Instead, they want their customers to have to buy all the electricity they use from the utility, and sell all their onsite renewable generation back to the utility at a pre-determined price.

What price, you ask? Well, the utilities are all over the map on that one.

  • PG&E proposes the FiT price should vary by technology and should be set at “the avoided cost of the energy minus any costs incurred accommodating the generation that are not paid by the participating customer” (this would equal approximately 4 cents/kWh, minus integration costs). PG&E proposes an adder could be included if needed to allow continued growth of rooftop solar, with that adder declining over time.
  • SDG&E proposes that the FiT price should vary by technology like PG&E, but argues the price should be set based on production cost, rather than on the value of the energy to the rest of the system.  (SDG&E follows up by proposing yet another alternative for determining the price: that it be based on the competitively-set ReMAT price already being used for systems of 1-3 MW.)
  • So Cal Edison agrees with PG&E that “the FiT rate should be based on market price benchmarks in the wholesale energy markets, such as the CAISO’s default load aggregation point (DLAP) prices” but says the price should not vary by technology and doesn’t suggest an adder to go on top of the short-run energy-only price.

We see some significant problems here. Foremost among them is that throwing out net metering and replacing it with a ‘buy all-sell all’ arrangement would be at odds with Americans’ fundamental right to self-generation. Net metering allows customers to first meet their own electricity needs with the clean energy they generate, and then receive full retail credit on their utility bill for excess electricity they send back to the grid. In California, about two thirds of the power generated from net metered systems is currently used by customers onsite.  A FiT is something else entirely – the utility credits customers for all of their solar power production at a set price. In this situation, solar customers are no longer self-generators empowered to use their solar energy to primarily reduce their own load. They instead become power producers that must send all of their power to the utility.

A FiT that accurately values the net benefits of rooftop solar generation— fully building in public health, environmental, economic and grid benefits– is a fine option for those who want to be in the business of delivering power to the utilities, but it should be the customer’s choice whether they move to a FiT or choose to primarily use their solar energy onsite as a way of reducing their electricity purchases from the utility. PURPA, a federal law approved by Congress back in 1978, affirms this common-sense customer right to self-determination. (See our earlier blog post if you’d like to read our principles for designing an expanded net metering program, highlighting the importance of the right to self-generate.)

Beyond the issue of customer rights, there are other practical concerns.  Arriving at the right FiT price to compensate customer-sited renewables is a difficult and contentious proposition. As outlined above, the utilities’ proposals for how that price should be calculated vary greatly from each other—and none inspire much confidence in reaching proper valuation.  In fact, in recent years several CPUC proceedings considered developing value-based renewable procurement programs (AB 1969 expansion, AB 920 implementation, SB 32 implementation), and in each of those proceedings, utilities fought comprehensive valuation of clean energy tooth and nail.  And the Edison Electric Institute, the trade association representing all investor-owned utilities in the US, has repeatedly stated its opposition to crediting distributed renewables with any value beyond the short term price of polluting fossil-fuel generation: see Greentech Media articles here and here.  Until the monopoly utilities are willing to properly value distributed generation, a policy that secures value for customers by offsetting retail purchases is a much more pragmatic approach.

Net metering is a simple and proven policy tool for supporting self-generation, and has been enormously successful in California. The real issue here is rate design, where solutions are available, as noted in a recent DOE Sunshot paper that proposes three-pronged approach of revenue decoupling, a minimum bill and time-of-use rates that are gradually phased in for all customers. Since the CPUC is set to approve changes to residential rate structures in 2015 that will kick in over the next several years, we simply can’t know yet how the benefits of net metering to all Californians will stack up against costs (though a proper accounting of both sides is very likely to show continued net benefits for everyone). Meanwhile, California remains far from achieving its long-term goals to protect the climate, and we need to expand solar access to more Californians who live in disadvantaged communities. We hope that in 2015, solar supporters all across the state will come together to urge the CPUC take a common sense approach: extend and expand net metering beyond 2016, enabling more Californians to help tackle our collective climate challenge, and to control their own energy future.


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Let’s Get Florida Off the Solar Sidelines Wed, 29 Oct 2014 20:51:54 +0000 PetitionThis Saturday, Florida will take on Georgia in one of the biggest rivalries in college sports. While either team could emerge the football champion, there is no doubt who is winning on solar – and it’s not the Sunshine State.

Last year Georgia was the fastest growing solar state in the nation, while Florida slipped yet again to 18th. The Bulldogs’ home state picked up even more yardage this month with Georgia Power signing contracts for more than 2,800 football fields worth of new solar – all for 30% less than their price of new fossil fuel power plants. That’s right: solar energy for LESS than the cost of traditional power. Georgia is scoring solar touchdowns while Florida sits on the sidelines.

It’s time to put more of our homegrown sunshine to work producing affordable electricity, building a new energy economy, improving energy security and reducing harmful pollution. If you live in Florida, sign our petition and tell state policymakers that we can’t afford to punt on solar. Let’s make the Sunshine State a solar champ!

Go Gators*

* Justin is a proud graduate of the University of Central Florida, but in the spirit of establishing more solar in FL, is willing to concede. #goknights #chargeon

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More solar coming to California Wed, 29 Oct 2014 15:35:17 +0000  

Over the past few days, Southern California Edison submitted 857 MW worth of new solar PV contracts to the the California Public Utilities Commission for approval (see advice letters 3119-E, 3121-E, and 3120-E)

[EDITED: The day after posting, SCE filed an additional 3 contracts for approval — advice letters 3124-E, 3125-E, and 3126-E — totaling an additional 474 MW.  That’s a total of 1331 MW over 2 days.  Good times!]

On October 16, 2014, the CPUC approved a 100 MW solar contract for Pacific Gas and Electric.

And Sonoma Clean Power, a community choice aggregator, announced that it will be exceeding 33% renewables after signing several new contracts, including another 20 MW of solar (bringing their total solar procurement to 70 MW).

We have the technology.  All we need to do is use it.

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DOE paper: Keep Calm and Net Meter On Sat, 25 Oct 2014 00:43:20 +0000 The problem is not too much solar.

That might seem self-evident, but that is basically what utilities around the country are arguing — and trying to ‘fix.’  As energy users are increasingly turning to solar to generate their own emission-free power, utilities are responding by trying to get rid of net metering and change rate structures to impose large fixed charges.  The outcome?  Less solar. keep-calm-generator-poster-net-meter-on

We have long argued that the problem is not too much solar, nor is it net metering, the policy that is helping customers in 43 states choose sunshine as their energy source. Rather, it’s a utility business model (and perhaps a regulatory paradigm) that needs updating.

In this vein, The Department of Energy’s Sunshot Program released a useful new document: Rethinking Standby and Fixed Charges: Regulatory and Rate Design Pathways to Deeper Solar PV Cost Reductions. The paper makes a lot of arguments that we’ve been making, with the benefit of having a DOE logo to remove the smell of patchouli oil.  The CliffsNotes are as follows:

  • Utility arguments on cost shifts often contain a lot of horsemalarkey.  Not only do utilities fail to appropriately credit the benefits of solar, but they cherry-pick arguments about cost-shifting to inappropriately discriminate against net-metered solar users.  Common rate design practice is to look at a utility’s cost of serving its customers over one year and divide those costs into two categories: ‘fixed’ long-term investments in infrastructure and the like, and ‘variable’ costs that change according to how much electricity is produced and delivered. This short-term snapshot makes fixed costs appear unavoidable, and – the utilities argue – by reducing their utility bill payments, solar customers are by definition not covering as much of those fixed costs as their non-solar counterparts. But of course individual investment in local generation can reduce the need for both fixed and variable costs over a proper time frame. As the Arizona Residential Utility Customer’s Office noted: “Fixed costs are not fixed forever; every cost is variable given the proper time horizon.” It’s time to start treating distributed generation like it’s going to be around for awhile.
  • Fixed charges have a ‘disproportionately negative and unduly burdensome impact’ on customers who go solar. Instead, a three-pronged approach of 1) decoupling, 2) bare minimum bill that is only assessed if customers buy little to no utility energy, and 3) time-of-use (TOU) rates, phased in gradually to all customers — should keep everything copacetic (that is, both solve for utilities’ revenue requirements and allow solar customers to get appropriate value for their generation) for a long time to come, at least until customer-sided solar reaches ‘significant plurality’ (20-30%) of utility peak load.

It’s really worth a read.

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Solar Shines Bright in the Windy City Thu, 09 Oct 2014 23:15:04 +0000 Last week we wrapped up registration for our fourth group purchase program, Solar Chicago. When we helped launch the program back in July, we were especially excited to see first hand what kind of local demand and savings we could uncover in this untried solar market by pooling the purchasing power of Chicagoans. The answer? Lots. Of both.

All told, more than 2,100 residents around Chicagoland signed up to learn whether solar energy would be a good fit for their home. That’s nearly three times more than the City’s original 750 person registration goal. There is clearly a ton of pent-up demand for solar in the Windy City!

Participants have until October 31st to sign contracts, but even with a few weeks to go, it’s clear that this program will have a meaningful impact on local solar deployment. To date, Chicago homeowners have signed contracts totaling more than 450 kilowatts of new residential solar capacity in just 3 months. We’re hopeful Solar Chicago will meet the half-megawatt mark, enough to more than DOUBLE the total amount of solar previously installed in the region. Amazing progress!

The program also helped tackle soft costs like customer acquisition head on to deliver real savings to participants. By enabling the local solar industry to instead serve customers in bulk, Solar Chicago was able to deliver pricing that is competitive with California, our nation’s most mature solar market.

Solar Chicago has shown that there’s strong interest in clean energy throughout the region. The program has also brought to light some gaps in the local market that local governments and industry can address to improve efficiency, lower costs and clear the way for the solar growth that Illinoisans want. Zoning requirements in dense urban environments, structural upgrades on older buildings, and local permitting rise to the top as issues to be addressed. Once the deadline to sign contracts has passed, Vote Solar will have more details to share on the program outcomes and lessons learned.

We’d like to thank all of our program partners for helping to make Solar Chicago a rousing success: the Environmental Law & Policy Center (local outreach), Juhl Energy and Microgrid Solar (installation team partners), the City of Chicago (lead sponsor), the Villages of Wilmette, Hanover Park, Oak Park, and Franklin Park (additional outreach support), and the World Wildlife Fund (for underwriting the administration cost through an Earth Hour Challenge grant).

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Equinox East: Tons o’ fun at our first east coast fundraiser Tue, 07 Oct 2014 16:14:47 +0000 Our spring Equinox fundraiser in San Francisco is known for being a solar party of epic proportions – so expectations were high as we set out to throw our first ever New York version. Well, let us tell you, the east coast did not disappoint. Check out photos for yourself here.

Hundreds of solar compadres converged in Brooklyn to celebrate sunny progress and support continued success. We were thrilled to be surrounded by the shiny faces of so many of our long-time partners from the region’s industry, environmental and policy community.  We were especially honored to be joined by our solar champion honoree Chairman of Energy & Finance for New York State Richard Kauffman, NY State Senator Kevin Parker and actor Mark Ruffalo – all of whom inspired with their words on the solar revolution that is currently underway.

The fall Equinox is a time to reap the harvest of the year’s hard work, and this party really was an awesome celebration of just that for solar on the east coast. The sun rises in the east, and these days it’s also where some of the most interesting U.S. solar progress is being made.  The Empire State made an historic commitment to develop ten times more solar and is now fundamentally re-imagining its grid to empower customer participation. Massachusetts met its 250 MW solar goal four years early, and promptly upped the ante more than SIX TIMES to 1,600 MW. Connecticut and New York are both looking to expand solar access to renters and others through shared solar. New Jersey is a perennial top contender. And even Georgia is defying the coal-state narrative by embracing 900 MW of solar by 2016, all below the cost of buying new fossil generation. We’ve come a long way and the good cheer from Equinox East will power us on . . .

Now that we’ve finally swept up all the confetti, we wanted to be sure to thank all who helped make our first Equinox East such a success, especially our host committee and generous sponsors: SolarCity, AllEarth Renewables, Clean Energy Collective, Sungevity, SunPower and the Solutions Project. Our beverage sponsors: Brewery Ommegang, Four Roses Bourbon, Greenhook Ginsmiths, and Constellation Wines. And to our band Roosevelt Dime, Oct28 Productions and the Pixie & The Scout for all their help making it such a great evening. With their help, the bar for NYC solar fun has been set high. It’s going to be hard to outdo it next year, but that’s just the kind of challenge Vote Solar’s dedicated team is willing to tackle. Onwards!


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Colorado PUC Deliberates the Benefits of Net Metering Thu, 02 Oct 2014 22:48:15 +0000 Solar supporters once again packed the house at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission yesterday as Xcel Energy and solar advocates debated the benefits of net metering.  A diverse range of supporters showed up to the panel, including the President of the NAACP Colorado State Conference.  Bryan Hannegan from the National Renewable Energy Lab first framed the conversation by referencing “Methods for Analyzing the Benefits and Costs of  Distributed Photovoltaic Generation to the U.S. Electric Utility System“.

The remaining three hours of the panel centered around deliberation on the calculation methods and economic values of the benefits of net metering in Colorado. On one side, the utility cited assumptions from their last Electric Resource Plan (including a zero value for the cost of carbon), coming up with a value of 8 cents per kilowatt-hour.  Representing the solar industry, Vote Solar’s own Rick Gilliam along with Tom Beach of Crossborder Energy calculated a benefit of 18 cents a kilowatt-hour, more than double that of Xcel.  The solar industry analysis included environmental and societal benefits, such as reducing pollution and creating jobs.

The Commission was able to narrow points of disagreement to a few key areas:

  • The value of pollution emission reductions
  • The value of generation
  • Savings for distribution and transmission systems
  • Societal value

This was the second of three workshops that the PUC is holding to take a close look at this successful crediting arrangement for rooftop solar. The 3rd panel, which is expected to take place before the end of the year, will review net metering policies in other states.  Chairman Epel indicated that a 4th panel may be necessary to address any outstanding issues from the first three panels. This is important stuff for the future of rooftop solar in the Centennial State!

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