Energy Strategy and Planning for North American Bitcoin Miners
With the Bitcoin mining industry facing various challenges such as low Bitcoin prices and rising costs, miners have been forced to adopt innovative approaches to manage risks. This report delves into energy management strategies and factors to consider when expanding to new locations.
Scope of the Report
The Bitcoin mining industry is a resilient and ever-evolving sector that has faced several challenges over the years. In 2022, the industry experienced both highs and lows, with miners innovating to maintain sound economic operations while ensuring long-term sustainability. Despite the challenges, the industry has persevered, with many miners navigating difficult conditions while continuing to focus on the backbone of Bitcoin mining: hashrate.
Yet, the purpose of this report does not extend to all nuts and bolts of the industry, but to some crucial catalysts. Divided into two parts, this report captures the current state of the market with an energy lens.
In the first part, we discuss the fundamental role of energy, scoping the key dynamics of energy in the United States. Electricity accounts for nearly 79% of miners’ operating costs and dictates the profitability of miners. Thus, we delve into how we arrived at the current market conditions and the rise in energy rates that have put some operators in a distressed state. We also address the trend of miners moving to Texas and its associated risks.
In the second part, we turn our focus to the key determinants to consider when incorporating energy management strategies. This part builds on the first by offering a more detailed analysis of alternative energy management strategies and factors to be taken into account when selecting a new site for mining operations.
To conduct a thorough analysis, we collected data from some of the largest listed miners in the United States, namely: Bitfarms, Bit Digital, BlockQuarry, Cathedra, Cipher Mining, CleanSpark, Core Scientific, DigiHost, DMG, Galaxy, Greenidge, Hive, Hut 8, Iris Energy, Marathon, Mawson, Sato, Soluna, Sphere 3D, Stronghold, and TeraWulf.
This executive summary provides an overview of the current state of the Bitcoin mining industry and highlights the key factors that are shaping its growth and evolution. Despite facing significant challenges, such as low Bitcoin prices and increasing operating costs, miners have shown remarkable resilience and adaptability, resulting in new hashrate all-time highs over the past months.
Our analysis shows that listed miners in the US and Canada have deployed significant infrastructure capacity, with potential for doubling in the US over the next two years. Texas has emerged as a leading state for mining operations, attracting miners due to favorable energy economics and regulatory landscape. However, the concentration of miners in Texas also poses risks with demand peaks on the grid and becoming a larger target for politicians.
We explore the recent volatility in energy prices and the implications of the energy mix, with a focus on the concept of “marginal price setter”. Furthermore, we examine the relative energy risk profile of the most popular mining states.
Overall, this report provides valuable insights for miners looking to mitigate risks and optimize their energy strategy. By diversifying their activities and understanding the energy landscape, miners can ensure long-term sustainability and growth in the dynamic and capital-intensive Bitcoin mining industry.
North America, Hashrate Center of the World
Historically, China has been the undisputed epicenter for Bitcoin mining. At its peak, the country was supplying nearly 75% of the global hashrate to the Bitcoin network. However, the recent crackdown by the Chinese government has caused a significant shift in the worldwide dynamic of the hashrate race, a shift that moved a majority of miners to North America.
We analyzed data from the University of Cambridge covering the network hashrate from 2019 to January 2022. During this period, China’s market share declined from 75.5% in September 2019 to 51.6% in February 2021 before the China ban intensified in June 2021. For the present date, Luxor estimates that the country’s share is circa 20%. However, our suspicion is there could be “more than meets the eye” as it pertains to China and Bitcoin mining. Chinese miners will continue to operate at some capacity.
As a result of the Chinese ban on Bitcoin mining, there was a large migration toward the United States and Kazakhstan; the global distribution of miners gradually became more diversified outside of China. Central Asian countries were unable to soak up the massive influx of miners coming from China. Since the end of 2021, Kazak miners are facing tougher restrictions, despite legislators enacting a more transparent regulatory framework. These tighter restrictions exerted pressure on industry stalwarts, ultimately compelling them to pursue the Asian exodus toward North and South America.
As a result of these changes, in early 2023 Luxor estimated the United States market share at 40% of the global network. Similarly, US public miners are estimated to operate 3.6 GW domestically. For context, Canadian mining capacity sits at approximately 0.7 GW. Next up, we turn our attention to the state and provincial regional mining capacity, in MWs, for both countries. The visuals below are meant to show North American Mining distribution before we dive into the U.S. market specifics.
At first glance, both visuals display a concentration pattern pertaining to respective states and provinces. Canada is a large country in terms of geography, but smaller in terms of hashrate. The hydro-rich provinces Quebec and British Columbia account for 43.7% and 31.1%, respectively. As for the United States, Texas clearly takes the lead as most hashrate-dense region. The wave of mining site development Texas received over the past two years will likely strengthen Texas as the primary mining state for many years to come. In the meantime, Georgia and New York lag behind their Texan counterpart with only 9.5% (GA) and 8.4% (NY) of the total US mining share.
The total hashrate of the United States will likely continue to increase. Although the country’s share of the mining market relies on a multitude of dynamics, namely the regulatory environment and energy economics, we cannot predict how growth in other countries will affect the US market. Still, a scenario with the US being responsible for a large portion of global hashrate clearly exists, as more states are incentivizing miners to harness the grid. Also, US miners are incentivized by the continued development of renewable assets in remote areas. Bitcoin miners are the buyers of last resort and give these renewable projects economic viability.
At the other end of the spectrum, we will observe in the second part of the report that some states are more reluctant to welcome these energy-intensive businesses.
The United States has become the preferred location for miners. In search of stability and affordable electricity prices, they deploy tremendous amounts of capital in the country. In the last few years, benefiting from favorable economics, miners started to tap into international capital markets to increase leverage. While not all leverage is good leverage, this shift increased the transparency of the large miners’ balance sheets and treasury management strategies. Based on this accrued visibility we can provide a map of the listed US miners.
Mapping of Publicly Listed Miners in the United States
Before we dive into the geography patterns exposed by the map, it’s worth starting with a preliminary review of the features shared. The data exhibits the geolocation of operating and non-operating mining sites in early 2023, and whether they are bound to be energized.
It’s uncertain what type of hashrate increase or decrease we will see this year. Investments in mining facilities have been plentiful in the last 36 months; however, most have been geographically concentrated. As it stands today in the United States, 60 facilities are operated by publicly listed Bitcoin miners.
Mapping of mining sites in the US and CA
At first glance, it appears that Texas, New York, and Georgia are the most concentrated states. With 17 sites of publicly listed miners, Texas has more operational hashrate than any other state. Texas also has a large amount of stranded renewable power, free market electricity prices, and favorable legislation making it a highly attractive location for Bitcoin companies. However, as we will see in a later section this concentration of hashrate, combined with the greater volatility of Texas weather, raises questions on the network resilience that merits deeper attention.
On the other hand, New York, a much tougher regulatory market, has eight sites, ranking it second on a state-by-state basis. The number of facilities might come as a surprise when you consider how lawmakers have scrutinized Bitcoin miners in the region. With the recent two-year moratorium focused on restricting new activity on fossil fuel-powered facilities, nobody knows what could be next on the chopping block in the broader Bitcoin mining industry.
California and Florida have no mining capacity because of their elevated electricity rates. Washington, Oregon, Tennessee, and many other low-cost markets could be under-represented on the below map. The two main reasons: the map does not cover private miners which are a larger group, and second high local taxes combined with adverse political/regulatory frameworks serve as entry barriers for miners with an appetite for growth.
Mapping Megawatt Capacity
The previous mining map only offers a crude measure of how the public market is structured, but it is an incomplete tool for measuring the concentration ratio in a given place. An approach to gauge the relative abundance of capital deployed into a state is to track the deployed mining capacity. In Early 2023, we estimate that 3,610 MW are operating in the country.
Overall, the positive correlation assuming that the most endowed states are embracing the greatest power capacity is somewhat verified. However, the map points to an imbalance between Texas and others.
“Bitcoin mining is helping balance our grid and is driving more renewables into our system”
- Brad Jones, former CEO ERCOT, Texas Electric Grid
Texas is at the forefront of Bitcoin mining. It encompasses a daunting 54.35% of the total megawatts used by public miners in the United States. When looking at the top ten biggest mining sites, six are located in Texas. Namely, Riot at Rockdale (380 MW) and Hut 8 Corp at King Mountain (220 MW) are currently running the largest facilities in the US. Although Texas infrastructure is not concentrated in close proximity, the over-concentration of Texan Bitcoin miners with 1,962 MW should question a potential point of failure supported by the network alongside the weather risk. One namely example of such weather-inflicted risks is Riot which still deals with damages to its ASIC fleet from the last winter storm. Mobile containers have been impacted by the extreme weather damaging approximately 2.5 EH/s of their hashrate capacity.
At the second rank, Georgia (343 MW) has long been a place with cheap electricity prices. Conversely to New York (302 MW), where the miners cope with more volatile and higher power prices in addition to the historically uncertain regulatory and political environment.
South Carolina, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania are notable places to mine, together they account for 588 MW representing 16.3% of the US mining market. As we will witness in the next map, North Dakota power capacity could surge in a couple of months as Marathon would be able to energize its miners at the Jamestown and Ellendale facilities.
Where Are the Miners Going?
Bitcoin mining requires a long-term vision, particularly for the actors that are willing to pour vast amounts of capital into their own infrastructure. Owning their facility allows miners to secure energy and enhance margins as they benefit from economies of scale and reduce average total cost. However, when incorporating capital investment it’s an onerous business in the short term compared to the popular hosting model.
But probably gone are the days of hosting supremacy more companies are building out their own farms.
Building a sustainable Bitcoin mining business requires prudent power purchase strategies, and the ability to adapt to legal and environmental challenges. Only well-capitalized miners are able to manage these risks. Flushed with fresh capital, some seized the opportunity to construct their own sites next to renewables while strengthening the electricity grids, especially in Texas. One example is the joint venture between Cipher Mining and WindHQ at their Alborz site in West Texas.
Given the progressive availability of renewable energy combined with the expansion of facilities at scale, the region has received applications to reach 4 GW by 2024, initially set at 5 GW before the surge in energy prices. However, if Texas is more than doubling its capacity, the state’s share would not increase relative to others, but rather maintain its current share at 53.6%, which emphasizes the growth potential of the other states. In fact, we anticipate New York will soar by 261%, North Dakota will shoot up by 282%, and Pennsylvania to quadruple.
Starting with the state of New York, on the surface, one would think that the ongoing capacity increase might slow down or even decrease in the future, but the devil is in the detail. Currently, six data centers are operating at full capacity, two offer the potential to increase capacity in the future and one last has not been energized yet. Let’s focus on these three sites to explain the estimated 495 MW increase..
In contrast with the recent moratorium restricting any new non-renewable activity, in February, Digihost announced the acquisition of a gas-fired power plant in North Tonawanda (already contracted before the moratorium). This farm will consume 60 MW once fully energized. In addition, Digihost announced adding another 25 MW to its Buffalo data center. The biggest increase in the state of New York, however, is expected to occur at one of Terawulf’s data centers, which have the capacity to expand with another 410 MW of hydropower (actually fueled by 9% of coal and 91% of hydro).
Concerning North Dakota, the rise is driven by Marathon and miners in the private sector. After leaving the Hardin facility in Montana powered by coal, MARA struggled to find rack space. After having the ASICs stored in boxes for months, they eventually found a new home for them.
In Q3 2022, MARA contracted Applied Digital for a five-year deal to expand their mining activity in two sites, the first at Ellendale and another at Jamestown.
While the construction of Ellendale just started in Q3 2022 with a potential of 180 MW. The Jamestown facility will energize 33 MW in Q1 2023. Aggregated Marathon has the room to expand to a total capacity 247 MW in the coming years.
Lastly, we expect Pennsylvania’s Bitcoin mining share to climb from 5.0% to 9.8%, with a total capacity increase of 545 MW. Mawson and TeraWulf have recently secured a large amount of power in the state. TeraWulf is connecting to a nuclear power plant currently using 50 MW with another 250 MW available for expansion. Mawson has just broken ground on a 120 MW facility and expects to energize their first machines in early Q2 2023. Hence, we expect the total Bitcoin mining capacity to increase from the current 55 MW to 186 MW in the future.
The Importance of Diversification
While the global Bitcoin mining sector should consolidate overall in 2023, there are still outstanding investments from the 2022 bull market coming online this year. Our expectation is that Texas miners and ERCOT will continue to negotiate and find new avenues for collaboration. North Dakota will ensure the continuity of this dynamic, in addition to states like Montana which recently passed the “Right to Mine Bill”. In the North East/Mid-Atlantic, we expect the hashrate to grow. Unfortunately, it is “buyer beware” as the New York regulatory environment remains risky.
Did the New York case teach the miners a lesson? If we should retain one, it is the following: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Miners might diversify their risk by mining in other areas or even countries as Bitfarms does in Paraguay and Argentina.
Diversifying locations not only addresses the regulatory sword but also contributes to mitigating the electricity price exposure of a given state or nation. In summary, geographic diversification will enhance network resilience.
Key Determinants to Scrutinize in Energy Markets
In 2021, expansion priorities were shaping the mining landscape. Two years later, treasury management, PPAs, and renewable electricity are the prevailing themes. Given the impact of natural gas prices on Bitcoin miners, we expect gas prices to remain a factor in Bitcoin miners’ risk management strategies. Miners are exposed to basis risk further out on the curve. Basis risk is defined as the risk associated with a hedged position. While a miner might believe they are fully hedged, in reality, a sharp capitulation in the underlying price can result in losses on both the hedge and the underlying asset. Certainly, the path forward to shape a more resilient industry will require miners and their partners to identify and capitalize on power strategies and energy markets.
Later, another section will conduct an empirical analysis of certain factors on a state-by-state basis. We will analyze electricity prices, then explore power source considerations and the underlying volatility of energy markets.
Electricity Price Formation
A study from Cambridge estimated that on average power costs represent ~79% of miners’ operational expenditure. However, among different miners, the shares vary substantially, especially between those miners that secured long-term electricity rates via power purchase agreements and those relying on variable prices. Naturally, for miners with long-term price security adverse market environments are easier to weather.
At first glance, the US grid structure appears particularly fragmented. Still, two major types of actors monitor the system, ISO (Independent System Operator, colored in the map below), and regulated ISOs that are servicing a third of the electricity demand.
This diversity comes from the energy market liberalization introduced by the Energy Policy Act in 1992. Arguing that competition will lower costs, provide growth and increase innovations, as of today academic research remains mixed on the impact of deregulation on electricity markets. ERCOT in Texas is a free power market, while other states such as New York have a price cap.
Free Markets Attract Miners
We can simplify the US Power Markets into two categories: regulated and deregulated.
In regulated markets, tariffs are “cost-based”. This amount is set based on recovering the utility’s operating and investment costs alongside a “fair” rate of return on those investments. Hence, customers’ choice is limited to the utility or power provider. To keep electricity rates reasonable for customers, while maintaining bottom-line revenue for their shareholders, the state’s public utilities commission oversees and approves power prices
In deregulated areas, customers are free from selecting their electric supplier which introduces competition for electricity prices. Here prices are market-based and fluctuate with supply and demand. So far, our discussion has centered on the two distinctive forms of the market and prices on regulated markets, now let’s talk about how energy markets price electricity.
In general, the biggest challenge in energy markets is to transmit energy at the lowest cost through a reliable path from one point to another. To manage such complexity, the whole system is handled by a grid operator.
Organized as an auction, the price of energy follows a singular mechanism. Prices are based on the cost a facility must spend in order to produce an MW of power (or its marginal cost per MW). Note that the marginal cost is variable (fuel and regular maintenance costs) and excludes the capital expenditures to build the facility.
Then grid operators assess the marginal cost production profile or the “bid curve” of each generator. They start dispatching power with the lowest marginal cost for each MW and incrementally increase the bid curve to match energy demand. Once they have reached their target, the demand for the network and the grid price are set. The amount is defined by the costs supported by the price setter which is the last entity that provides power to the grid. Although this section would deserve a wider explanation (read the brilliant article by Blake King which inspired this explanation).
Additionally, Texas aims to change from zonal pricing to nodal pricing, which allows for more price precision. Nodal pricing allows miners to go to areas with wind and solar, thereby driving down costs.
Macro Effects on Coal and Gas
The major geopolitical event of the decade erupted in early 2022, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, sharply disrupting global energy markets, and exacerbating an already upward spiral in prices after the COVID-19-induced slump. To varying degrees, most countries have experienced one of the biggest energy shocks since the 1970s.
Both natural gas and coal saw a rapid price increase, volatility was even higher in the European market due to its import dependency on Russia. The EU energy mix in 2020 consisted of 23.7% of natural gas, of which Russia supplied 41.1%. As Europe sought to substitute Russian gas, it bid up prices of US, Australian, and Gulf countries’ LNG, despite the stability of the market in recent years.
Although macro events exacerbated the pressure on energy prices, which particularly affected miners as an energy-intensive business, a mention has to be made regarding the role played by natural gas in power markets. Earlier, we explained the price setter in a deregulated market was the marginal unit of energy deployed to the grid. Given the flexibility in production offered by gas, as opposed to nuclear, wind, and solar, Henry Hub sets the marginal price in most states, including Texas.
In the last section, we will provide key insights on popular mining states, mainly about the volatility of prices as well as the implications of the energy mix price change.
Since the beginning of the year, we see that US regulators have Bitcoin mining on their regulatory agenda. At a state scale, the political treatment of Bitcoin mining remains mixed. Yet, we notice a major trend emerging: miners are allowed to harness the grid, provided that they rely on green energy sources.
The Effect of Power Prices on Hosting Providers
A combination of macroeconomic and industry events — inflation in power rates, credit tightening, supply chain bottlenecks, rising hashrate, and industry blowouts- ultimately resulted in Chapter 11 filings. The pain may continue if bitcoin prices remain flat in an increasingly difficult market.
The second largest hosting provider, Compute North, filed for Chapter 11 in September 2022. Core Scientific, the biggest public miner in North America totaling 23.7 EH/s, filed for Chapter 11 at the end of 2022. While Core Scientific navigates bankruptcy they are still mining over 50 bitcoin per day on behalf of the trustee.
According to Galaxy Digital, more than a gigawatt of hosting capacity went bust. Crushed by the rise in electricity costs, hosting providers have learned a painful lesson: overzealous growth coupled with a lack of energy risk management comes at a cost. A common pattern that characterized most hosting providers’ failure was the growing imbalance between their costs and the prices contracted by their clients. To illustrate, in the case of Compute North’s failure, customers were offered three to five years lease contracts with locked power prices. In the meantime, the company did not secure any portion of its power rates and was largely exposed to the volatility of energy markets, which finally caught her in a vicious circle.
Among the miners hosted by Compute North were Compass Mining, Hive, Marathon, and Argo. After being in financial distress for months, Argo sold their Helios infrastructure, running 50 MW with a potential of 800 MW, to Galaxy in order to raise cash.
As the backbone of a mining business, energy will certainly remain a key performance indicator. Going forward, we expect Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) to become a vital component of the industry.
Simply having a PPA is not enough — granularities and specifics around fixed/variable costs need to be understood by all industry stakeholders. Eventually, miners will find alternatives to hedge the energy risk when they are unable to contract a PPA.
Miner Risk Management
In many industries, it’s common practice to offset the market volatility and cover price risk to ensure operational profitability.
For Bitcoin miners, such solutions are offered for example by protocols like Block Green. On these protocols, counterparties agree on a future price for a miner’s hashrate revenue, thereby eliminating several price risks inherent to the Bitcoin mining industry. These standardized contracts benefit from greater liquidity compared to traditional forwards. In order to minimize the counterparty credit risk, the miner must post on chain collateral, similar to an initial margin on a margin account.
In traditional futures, the maintenance margin must be “maintained” to prevent a margin call that will close your position. A daily settlement mechanism will then increase or reduce the initial margin account depending on the movement of prices in the market. The traditional commodity futures’ margin-equity ratio is about 15%. Afterward, you have to maintain a cash balance to keep your margin at reasonable levels. Block Green uses a mechanism to account for deviations in hashrate delivery by pulling from the on-chain collateral posted by the miner.
In the Bitcoin mining industry, a much more widespread vehicle to hedge electricity costs is the PPA. This is an agreement to secure a fixed amount of power between two parties. During this bear market, the miners who failed to contract power at a fixed rate have seen their margins tighten or disappear. The hosting case perfectly summarizes this point where the rally in energy prices has disrupted the host’s business model.
On the flip side, miners who locked up a PPA were shielded from the volatility. Better still, PPA versatility also enabled Bitcoin miners to diversify their revenue by curtailing their energy expenditures and sending it to the grid. Curtailment represents a powerful competitive advantage, especially during bear markets when cost reduction becomes vital. Indeed, in most mining structures the weight of fixed costs is substantial, difficult to adjust, and leaves no room for improving margins.
Aside from derivatives products and PPA, technical solutions exist to adjust the uptime of ASICs depending on electricity prices. Pricing models predicting the demand and supply on the grid can help miners optimize their production to remain below breakeven electricity price levels.
Capturing the Energy Profile of the Mining States
On the energy front, electricity costs remain the major subject of concern for Bitcoin miners. We depict the electricity change per state, a proxy of volatility, with the most important level of the infrastructure deployed. Plotting the data on a long-term basis, 10 years, we observe different patterns. Grid dynamics prove the importance of mitigating your energy risk. See graph below:
First, as a result of their greater reliance on natural gas, Georgia, New York, and Texas energy prices are much more sensitive compared to the second group: North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. Still, Pennsylvania appears as an outlier, with 53% of natural gas in its mix. This should be consistent with expectations because the Marcellus Gas Hub is in PA. Changes in prices occur more frequently above the 10% threshold in the first group and spikes are also more meaningful. This analysis is particularly true for Texas, where winter storms regularly and severely hit the state. This led to blackouts and a 127% raise in electricity prices in February 2021 during the deadly polar vortex which saw power prices reach $9,000 per MW.
As more Bitcoin miners are establishing themselves in Texas, it would be interesting to observe the weather’s impact on the network. Weather represents a unique risk compared to other areas. In the future, the risk of volatile weather could constitute a point of failure as grid reliance grows in the region.
In 2022, energy prices were mainly reacting to the change in gas, coal, and oil prices.
Focusing on the correlation graphs between industrial electricity and gas prices (2021), we identify a pattern in the US energy market. As explained, natural gas is the price setter of most markets. We extend the analysis identifying which are the most sensitive (with a positive correlation) and which are the least exposed (negative correlation) to the change in gas prices.
The first graph with North Dakota, Nebraska, and Washington exhibits a negative correlation, where both states are characterized by a low share of natural gas in their mix, respectively 3%, 4%, and 14%. By contrast, Georgia, Texas, and New York, whose electricity rates are strongly correlated to gas prices, demonstrate a greater concentration of natural gas in their mix ranging from 46% to 49%.
Focused on minimizing their electricity costs, miners could also offset their sensitivity by conducting a thorough analysis of the energy profile of the state. The basis would be to look at the energy mix and then determine which source of energy sets the price. Depending on its strategy and energy factors of the state, the miner will be able to enhance its risk management and finally increase its long-term value. While a forward contract is expensive, and PPA could be harder to secure as the grid capacity becomes saturated, analyzing the state energy profile and utilizing novel energy-centric products is the next step on the list.
The surge in prices that emerged in 2022, combined with the geopolitical instability shed the spotlight on the energy risk.
A perfect storm of negative events emphasized the importance of managing risk. Implementing energy and treasury management strategies will reward astute operators’ P&L, and become a vital part of the playbook for miners. As of now, power purchase agreements (PPA) and derivative markets have been the only hedging options in the hand of miners. As we saw, some states that present a negative correlation with the gas price could offer another type of resilience against energy price volatility.
Texas, whose electricity prices are strongly linked with gas, has attracted many miners in the last few years. Associated with the favorable free market energy landscape, cheap power costs, the potential shift to nodal pricing, and the tremendous amount of renewable energy, Texas is leading the way in the United States. Miners can strengthen grids with demand response and foster the development of large-scale renewable projects while helping the supply.
Concentration in Texas presents risks to the network in this particular area. Specifically, we identified the weather risk that has already impacted network hashrate and the potential for even more hashrate to come online.
The rising number of applicants to the ERCOT grid demonstrated how vital the regulatory framework is to the industry. Now with proof of the mutual benefits of demand flexibility from Texas, we can expect miners and regulators to work together. A focus on renewables and/or flaring while continuing to demonstrate the benefits of mining for the grid is paramount to aligning the industry with regulators. If the industry can grow a nationwide assessment of the tangible effects in terms of grid stability and electricity prices the future looks bright for the Bitcoin mining industry and US grids.
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