Ken Girardin is an engineer who has been researching and writing about energy policy issues in New York for over a decade. In this episode, Ken talks about his new report for the Empire Center, Green Guardrails, which found that the state’s Climate Act could cost taxpayers $4.9 trillion by 2050, the soaring cost of the offshore wind projects, land-use conflicts, and the “absolutism” that is driving much of the state’s climate policy. (Recorded March 5, 2024.)

Episode Transcript

0:14 – Robert Bryce 

Hi, Welcome to the Power Hungry podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast, we talk about energy, power, innovation, and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome my longtime friend, Ken Girardin from the Empire Center. We’ve been friends for a long time, Ken. I don’t know how I haven’t had you on the podcast before, but now we are making it happen. So welcome to the Power Hungry podcast.


0:32 – Ken Girardin 

It is great to finally be here in the major leagues.


0:36 – Robert Bryce 

Now, Ken, you’re the research director at the Empire Center in Albany. And you’ve recently written a report about climate policy in New York. We’ll talk about that in just a minute. But if you’ve watched the Power Hungry podcast, you know guests introduce themselves. So imagine you’ve arrived somewhere. You don’t know anyone. You have about a minute to introduce yourself.

Please introduce yourself.


0:59 – Ken Girardin 

I started life as a materials engineer at RPI in Troy, New York. I went into the doctoral program thinking I would work on microchips, and that’s what my grown-up job would be. And somewhere along the way, I realized that wasn’t the way to go, much to the chagrin of my parents, who had been the ones collecting the tuition bills every semester, and decided I wanted to do something else. I got involved, actually, in political campaigns for a little bit. Which brought me into government and working in the New York State Legislature.


1:37 – Ken Girardin 

I realized after a couple years of that it could really eat away at your soul. So, I had the good fortune of meeting up with the folks from the Empire Center, and I realized it was my chance to get away from living in shades of gray and go to a place where I could just tell it like it was without having to worry about what endorsements my boss would get in the next campaign or anything like that. And I had the very good fortune of getting to go to work for Tim Hofer and E.J. McMahon in at the 2014 Empire Center.


2:12 – Ken Girardin 

They hired me as the communications director. They didn’t know at the time that I had panic attacks whenever I had to actually talk to the press. But I was so eager to impress and be part of the Empire Center’s very good work. That I made it in there and I got over my I got over my severe anxiety about public speaking and After about two years there, I got pulled into the energy space when Governor Cuomo announced that New York State was going to have of its 50% power from renewables by 2030.


2:47 – Ken Girardin 

Now, the backstory on this is this was kind of a smoke screen around Cuomo bailing out three upstate nuclear power plants. Basically, we’re going to do the bailout for the nukes, and then we’re going to do some Wind and solar on the side and that’s going to make this okay. Uh, the really funny thing about that was Cuomo was simultaneously trying to save three nuclear power plants upstate while shutting one down in Westchester County. A little bit of, uh. A little bit of cognitive dissonance in New York energy policy then as there is today, but I worked on taking apart all the details behind his clean energy standard.


3:25 – Ken Girardin 

And it was just amazingly eye-opening about how complicated the energy picture was in New York. Who the players were, what the impacts would be on normal folks paying their bills, what the impact would be on the economy and Empire Center’s mission is to make New York a better place to live, work and do business. And it wasn’t until that point that I fully understood how critical energy is. To attracting population, to attracting capital, and just being a place to do business. So I had that eye-opening experience, and I could never see the world differently again.


4:01 – Ken Girardin 

So I’ve been energy woke since 2016.


4:06 – Robert Bryce 

Energy woke. I don’t know that I’ve heard that phrase, particularly given how you’ve approached the energy politics before, or how you think about energy and energy in the state. But let’s talk about the report that you just recently finished for the Empire Center. It’s terrific. It’s called Green Guardrails, Guiding New York’s Drive to Lower Emissions. Now, I could read the punchline here. Well, I will read the punchline, because you, in fact, looked at state numbers. The state’s own data, the state’s own figures show that the cost of this, the Climate Act in New York, will cost consumers in the state, will cost New Yorkers something like $4.9 trillion by 2050.


4:48 – Robert Bryce 

I mean, these are just enormous numbers. $4.9 trillion. Walk me through how you got to that number, where that number comes from, because You know, we’re continually told that climate action is going to be, you know, as Amory Levin says, not just a free lunch, but a lunch you get paid to eat. No, it’s going to be incredibly expensive. So $4.9 trillion, how do you get there from where we are and whose number is that?


5:13 – Ken Girardin 

There’s a great demotivational poster of a shipwreck with the bow of a ship pointing out of the water in a harbor. And it says, it may be that your only purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others. And that’s kind of what New York is dedicated to doing right now with climate policy. In 2019, they enacted this, what was widely accepted as the most sweeping climate legislation in the country. Simultaneously decarbonizing the electric grid and the economy. Two things that are pretty gutsy to try to do in parallel.


5:49 – Ken Girardin 

I’m being very charitable with the word gutsy.


5:52 – Robert Bryce

This is the Cuomo administration.


5:53 – Ken Girardin 

This is under Cuomo. This is under Cuomo in 2019.


5:58 – Robert Bryce 

The move was the same year, sorry to interrupt, but that was the same year that the announcement for closing Indian Point happened, if I’m not mistaken, right? It closed finally in 2021?


6:07 – Ken Girardin 

You have to see, they had just, I think they were still wiping the confetti off. From getting the import closed. And it was kind of like, what are we going to go do next? Like, oh, we’re going to go and completely reconfigure New York’s economy and its electric grid at the same time. So they set goals. The shortest term goals are to have 70% of power come from renewables by 2030, which doesn’t include the nuclear in the state. So they were looking to go from having most electricity come from fossil fuels to just a tiny fraction of it.


6:42 – Ken Girardin 

To go from roughly renewables to renewables, 70% and then also to cut emissions by from 1990 levels by 2030. Now, the state had been trending down, but in terms of where they were compared to where they want to be, they were only about a quarter of the way there. So they’re talking about making some pretty big cuts to emissions from the state economy, when a lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been taken. And the way to do this, Governor Cuomo said, we’re going to essentially empower the state to consider emissions in every ministerial administrative decision there is.


7:24 – Ken Girardin 

And they turned the State Department of Environmental Conservation into I don’t know if it’s like RoboCop meets Rambo, but you could combine your superpowers together in one place and they are empowered to go and set the policy for how the state gets to these emission cuts. So there is no law saying thou shalt not have a gas stove or thou shalt not have an oil furnace. These are things that the State Department of Environmental Conservation is looking to ban through regulations.


7:55 – Ken Girardin 

And they’re looking to do this across the entire economy. Alongside that, they’re also looking to essentially put a carbon tax in place. They call it cap and invest because it’s not a tidy carbon tax like it’s been proposed at the national level. It’s something that’s going to cost, by 2030, it’s going to be costing something like $6 to billion a year. And the idea is a piece of that’s going to get rebated back to folks, but it’s going to be high enough to steer people away from certain stuff.


8:24 – Ken Girardin 

It’s based on some pretty rosy assumptions about human behavior and the elasticity or lack thereof of the energy markets. But they’re looking to do all this stuff by 2030. And they’ve said, oh, and it’s going to be a net benefit for the state of about billion by the time it’s all done in 2050. I’ve worked on enough economic development and tax policy in New York to know that any time anybody tells me there’s a net benefit from the state spending and regulating a lot, I know you have to be pretty skeptical of that.


8:57 – Ken Girardin 

It’s not always wrong, but it’s usually wrong. And looking at this, the way the state got to that number was, number one, baking in lots of global benefits, which aren’t going to be realized on New York state. It’s a benefit for, in theory, low-hanging islands in the South Pacific to have New York generally less carbon dioxide and methane over the next years. 25 But there is no immediate benefit for New York. So you take those back and you find that the cost figures they had were in the range of 280, $290 billion.


9:30 – Ken Girardin 

Even those were net present value, which means they highly discount the biggest costs in the program, which happened in the out years. And to do that, I had to really peel apart the state’s numbers. And what they showed was essentially that their program results in $4.9 trillion in costs, but that it’s going to prevent trillion $4.3 in spending. These are very bold predictions. There’s not a lot of range in these estimates. The state of New York has a not stellar track record on betting on the future of energy.


10:11 – Ken Girardin 

They built Tesla, a billion $1 factory to build solar roof tiles that people aren’t really buying. So to trust them about anything over $1 trillion in the future, let alone over trillion $4 over a 25-year period, there’s a lot of room for them to be wrong there.


10:30 – Robert Bryce 

So just to interrupt, sorry. So trillion. These are numbers that you found in the state’s own reports then? Just to be clear, this is what, if you, they did net present value calculations, they do all this other financial engineering, but the bottom line from the state’s own numbers that you got through Freedom of Information Act requests, howdid you get these numbers?


10:54 – Ken Girardin 

They posted them. We did a lot of FOIL requests, many of which were turned down, but these were numbers that they had posted. I mean, it was a very thick data set. You had to go through a lot of tabs in Excel to get to the right stuff. But what they did was they said, in different sectors of the economy, here’s where new costs would be realized. And then they compared that to avoided investment. So if you’re spending for a heat pump, that goes in column number one. And if you didn’t spend on $5,000 an oil furnace, the oil furnace that that heat pump replaced, that’s over $5,000 there.


11:34 – Ken Girardin 

They had all these numbers out there and they had compressed them down and added to make it look like a total benefit. But their track record of making long-term predictions is terrible. And one thing I do in the report is I looked at their coal forecast And I looked at how they thought coal was going to be the bee’s knees through the 2010s. They completely missed what was happening with natural gas in the electricity space, in the home heating space, in the fracking space. The state completely missed that.


12:04 – Ken Girardin 

And they were making these predictions in 2002. And they completely missed the realignment of the energy sector from coal to natural gas. And they kind of foreclosed the possibility that there are going to be better technologies coming online. In anything ranging from how we use fossil fuels to alternatives to fossil fuels to other efficiencies. And it’s almost comedy at a certain point to look at these folks and say, you really think you can make these predictions this far in the future?


12:38 – Ken Girardin 

It’s like, when my eight-year-old tells me he knows what I’m thinking or he knows what’s going to happen next, it’s like, I chuckle at that. Like, OK. Like, OK, buddy. You’re so sure. Let’s go. I mean, here you have the state of New York, which doesn’t exactly have a monopoly on predictive brainpower by any measure, saying, we know what’s best for the next 25 years, and we’re going to get you there with our regulations. It’s just, like I said, it’s a comedy of hubris.


13:07 – Robert Bryce 

So your report, you also chart the overall emissions from the state, and they have been declining somewhat. But the state is also bleeding residents. And at the same time that there is this push on to decarbonize the overall economy, the state is also trying to attract heavy industry, chip manufacturers. This has been very much in the news lately, and heavy industry that’s going to require a lot of power. So it seems to me there are these conflicting overall agendas at work here in terms of the electric grid in the state of New York itself.


13:43 – Robert Bryce 

But I want to come back to the grid and what power availability and the challenges with that, particularly given the closure of Indian Point and the constraints on the grid in the state of New York. Tell me what the reaction to your report has been. Has the New York Times covered this? Has the New York Post? Have you gotten any… You’ve done the deep dive into the numbers to say, well, here’s what in fact the state’s own data shows. What kind of traction have you had in the press in terms of exposing the real cost of this type of, I call it what it is, radical climate action?


14:15 – Robert Bryce 

What’s been the media uptake?


14:19 – Ken Girardin 

I’ve had a number of journalists say they need time to read it because they know there’s a lot there. The Empire Center has a really strong reputation in New York for going deep on issues people don’t understand and pulling them up. I’d say every three years, we do a really solid dive into a far-reaching but hard-to-understand subject. In health care, in tax, in labor. And this is our triennial dive into New York public policy. The New York Post editorial page called it a damning report, which I took as high praise because I was trying to sound the alarm about the fact that there are parts of the state’s policy, and we could talk about this later, where they say, essentially, 1 plus 1 equals 3.


15:10 – Ken Girardin 

And you need one plus one to equal two to keep the lights on. Probably the scariest thing for me right now isn’t just, it’s not even the cost, it’s not even the threat to reliability, it’s the uncertainty. It’s that the state has been willing to charge ahead so hard, so fast, that you’ve got a lot of people in the private sector saying, I don’t know how this is going to play out. I don’t know they’re eventually going to have to change their approach if they do it in twenty twenty five okay we can work with that if they don’t do it until twenty twenty nine when i’ve either.


15:48 – Ken Girardin 

Add to cancel plans or to radically change plans or spend a ton on compliance that my competitors aren’t necessarily going to be more my competitors aren’t necessarily going to help that. You’ve put this real chill on the state economy, and you talk about the big projects that are coming in. They’re the big projects that are coming in because New York is paying them to. New York is not ground zero for organic business development right now simply because it has a business climate problem.


16:17 – Ken Girardin 

And it’s not just taxes. A really big part of it is energy. It’s people wondering, what are electricity costs going to be 10 years from now when the state has forced the closure, and not necessarily deliberately, but in some cases, inadvertently forced the closure of a bunch of power plants?


16:39 – Robert Bryce 

Well, and this is something the New York ISO has reported on, the lack of generation capacity and future demand growth, and they’re in conflict, that you have this gap between what the expected demand for these chip fabs and other industrial facilities, what they’re going to require, and what is actually going to be available on the grid itself. So how long did you work on this report?

I mean, you know, it’s it’s pages. 37

I mean, I know, we’ve talked in the past about you asking for for state documents, the state not wanting to give them to you. It’s a very thorough look at all these different parts of the state’s economy, energy infrastructure. How long? How long was this in gestation? How long was this in the works?


17:28 – Ken Girardin 

This was about three months of this being my top priority. I got the most work done daily, as it happens, when my youngest child stopped wanting to sleep in her bed. And the only way I could ensure that would be if I sat there with my laptop and worked for a good 90 minutes straight With no no phones no distractions nothing that could be nothing that could wake the baby but just sitting there with with my my spreadsheets my utility filings my nice reports I’m gonna give a shout out to the new york independent system operator because they do such a good job of explaining what it is that they do.


18:10 – Ken Girardin 

It’s the sort of stuff that normal folks can pick up and understand how the energy market works in New York. And it’s thanks to them. They really go above and beyond to make sure that the public can understand stuff. They also have a really good podcast, which you should only listen to after you’re caught up on the PowerHunt podcast.


18:30 – Robert Bryce 

Well, I’m looking at New York’s electric rates. This is residential rates. Now, they went up just slightly. I nerd out, right, on the electric power monthly. But residential rates in New York now are kilowatt $0.22 hour. Those are some of the highest prices of any state in America. I know we’re talking about industrial load here, but still, the US average is About what is it cents? 15 So substantially above, uh the u.s average um, but the uh, the u.s average i’m, sorry is uh, cents 16 and so in new york, it’s 22.25, uh, according in 2023 But the key here is just in you’re talking about these issues in in broad terms about the competitiveness new york versus other states and this I think that your point about the uh uh the state of play the state of regulations the uncertainty in how and where people can invest and be certain of the regulatory scheme I think this is one of the key points and it’s something I see nationally where for co-ops for uh the the public power entities with all the riddles and all the uncertainty around EPA rules on greenhouse gases this is a real problem for the entire electric sector uh because there is so much uncertainty So is it more acute in New York, I guess?


19:52 – Robert Bryce 

And the other question would be, what does New York, what do you, what does this report say? Or how does this report, what should other people in other states be looking at this report? I’m thinking, well, why does this matter to me?


20:04 – Ken Girardin 

Big picture in New York, there is a constant concern where would-be investors are seeing what’s playing out in Albany, and the issue of the day might not directly affect them. Let’s say it’s about the minimum wage in restaurants. If you’re not opening a restaurant, it doesn’t matter to you. But you’re wondering, okay, when the activists are done with this, where are they coming next? And a lot of folks know they have vulnerabilities in their business model. Not that they’re doing anything unethical, but that state regulations can really radically affect that.


20:39 – Ken Girardin 

We see that a lot with people who rely on independent contractors for their business model, where they have to worry about States making some kind of targeted change that’s going to render their business model illegal and therefore unprofitable in a state.


20:55 – Ken Girardin 

Zooming in on what I did in Green Yard Rails, I’d offer it to folks in other states as an example of the kind of fundamental analysis that you need to do whenever any kind of economy-wide transformation is on the table. Because I spend a good part of the report talking about just the different tricks that state officials do to make stuff look either like a net positive or look smaller or ways that they suppress data. And I think there’s a lot of value in arming more people with the ability to go and take apart numbers the way I did.


21:33 – Robert Bryce 

You also make this key point that a lot of these regulations and the economy-wide scheme, as you’re describing it, It’s being deployed not by or not being approved by the New York Assembly, but rather by this unelected bureaucracy. And in Cuomo’s case, many of these were not. These were temporary appointees or what they were never confirmed. What did you call them? There were state level bureaucrats that were acting acting heads of these organizations. So not only were they not were these.


22:06 – Robert Bryce 

Were these regulators not approved by the Assembly? They were acting regulators that were under this whole, that were in their positions because of their, and therefore had their allegiance to Andrew Cuomo, and that they were the ones who put all of this together. Am I remembering correctly how you’re framing this in your report?


22:26 – Ken Girardin 

you have the advantage of being in Texas and therefore far away from the fallout from all of this. So I think you’ve got the craziest parts all together in one there. So I spent the first chapter of the report talking about just how it was that the legislature came to delegate all of its powers over to executive branch agencies to let them go and make policy, to let them go and create new taxes, all that stuff. And one of the symptoms of the legislature surrendering power to Governor Cuomo during his and 10 a half years as governor were the fact that his appointees didn’t even need to get confirmed.


23:07 – Ken Girardin 

They were just allowed to stay on the job, which people in most state capitals would say, that’s bonkers. If your constitution requires confirmation and hearings and oversight, that should be happening. And that was happening at a radically diminished level, if it was happening at all in New York. So the governor had a bunch of appointees who were on the job, not because they’ve been confirmed, but just because he was keeping them on the job. But the decisions about banning, say, banning gas stoves, what Basically, what the state’s path to lower emissions was going to be was decided by a 22-member appointed council called the Climate Action Council.


23:50 – Ken Girardin 

And there were a few Cuomo appointees on there too, so you’re right about that. But this was something where the legislative leaders in both parties had input. They got to pick a handful of people. And a lot of their votes, they came down like to 18 4. So I don’t want to say the fix was in, but you knew from how the the council was composed at the onset, that they weren’t going to get together and say, gosh, we’re unsure about this level of delegation of powers to executive agencies. They were going to go with the fundamental idea, which was to say that the legislature shouldn’t be the one voting on these decisions.


24:28 – Ken Girardin 

It’s OK for us to let the bureaucracy figure stuff out and to do stuff how it will.


24:34 – Robert Bryce 

You know, this is a really important point, Ken, and that’s one that I think has gotten, has not had the kind of scrutiny that it deserves or attention that it deserves. The Environmental Protection Agency is an administrative agency, obviously, a part of the bureaucracy, part of the administrative state, and yet they’re the ones now pushing, for instance, the ban on internal combustion engines or forcing automakers nationally by 2032 or to 2034 sell two-thirds of the vehicles they sell be all electric, right?


25:03 – Robert Bryce 

That’s one of their proposed rules. Well, that would never pass Congress, right? But only that’s at the federal level. And I could talk about greenhouse gas emissions from electric sector as well. That’s one of the proposed greenhouse gas rule. But then in California, this is a similar dynamic is at work where, remember, the internal combustion engine ban in California that is now in place was not passed by the California Assembly. It was a regulation proposed by the California Air Resources Board.


25:33 – Robert Bryce 

To me, there’s something, and I think it’s important to remember that a lot of this climate action is not a climate policy, climate regulation is not happening, is not coming from duly elected officials. It’s happening through the administrative state, which is, I think, fundamentally anti-democratic. And I don’t, am I making too much of that?


25:54 – Ken Girardin 

How do you see it? I seem to recall a time where we were told by people that we needed to do more to defend democracy. I’m strangely not hearing from them much during this exercise, but something about threats to democracy and how the people’s voices had to be heard in government, those voices are sadly absent from what we’re talking about here because it is undemocratic. It is, and by the way, it’s undemocratic and we can talk about things on like a first principles level, but there’s a reason we have, there’s a reason the democratic process has survived and allowed so much human flourishing over the last years.


26:36 – Ken Girardin 

2000 And that is the fact that when you have open debate about policies, when you have people going back to the electorate on a regular basis, when you have new people coming in and making those decisions, things end up better. You end up with new ideas. You end up bringing your policies onto a smoother path to get to your goals. Because when you start entrusting just state bureaucrats who aren’t going to be, to a great extent, aren’t going to be connected to the marketplace, who are going to be invested in the political prerogatives of the day, They’re not doing what others would be doing in terms of…


27:28 – Ken Girardin 

I’m just thinking of how much more efficiently the market in New York has reduced emissions than the state has. If you look at how far New York has come in terms of lowering its emissions from to 2000 today, it’s not from new renewables coming online. That’s a little piece of it. It’s primarily been from people investing in natural gas power plants that displaced oil and coal. It was from, I mean, and this was with a very light touch level of regulation. You had the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which didn’t have much effect on it.


28:00 – Ken Girardin 

You had, to a lesser extent, you had the acid rain regulations. You had different nudges in place, and then you had hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, in private capital coming in from people who wanted to make money, and they lowered emissions in the process of making lots of money.


28:19 – Ken Girardin 

I mean, it’s amazing. This wasn’t something that was concocted in some state office building. This was the market doing what the market does well. And this approach of vesting power in state agencies just completely deprives us of that guiding power of the marketplace.


28:39 – Robert Bryce 

Let’s talk about offshore wind, because I’ve been on Long Island. I’ve been in Montauk and seen the wind turbines at Block Island. New York has made a big bet, a big push for offshore wind, and I remember very vividly, and I’m still mad about the closure of Indian Point in Buchanan, New York, because it was such an important piece of New York’s energy infrastructure. But you point out in your report, and by the way, it’s called Green Guard Rails, Guiding New York’s Drive to Lower Emissions, and you can find it at


29:16 – Robert Bryce 

And Ken Girardin is on Twitter, at policyengineer, so follow up there. But you’re right, the Climate Act also requires offshore wind. The state’s path to zero emission electric grid must feature 6,000 megawatts of distributed solar energy capacity by megawatts 2025, 9,000 of offshore wind by and 2035, megawatts 3,000 of energy storage of undetermined duration by 2030. What is the fascination this in I would say it’s an absolutely insane Uh attachment to offshore wind energy among the the climate activist groups and among the bureaucrats in new york What why is there this strong attraction to offshore wind and it’s something I know you’ve tracked for a long time Why is this idea of it so strong?


30:03 – Ken Girardin 

They have it in europe robert That’s it Is that the only that’s the only reason I mean, a lot of New York public policy flows from people looking. Uncritically at how things work in Europe and saying, why can’t we have that here? We deal with that a lot in the health care space. We deal with that a lot in the tech space. And we deal with it in the energy space in particular. Europe has a very different energy picture from the US. They don’t have the same abundant amount of fossil fuel available to them on the continent.


30:43 – Ken Girardin 

They’ve got some in the North Sea, but they don’t have nearly the type of resources or infrastructure that the US does. So they also have better offshore wind to harness with offshore wind turbines off of the parts of the North Sea where it’s really picked up. Offshore wind kind of entered the New York dialogue in a big way in when 2016 Cuomo was saying, we’re going to get to 50% renewables by 2030. And then it was 14 years in the future, so we could have had flying cars by then. And where it was almost an answer to the critiques about reliability and the intermittent nature of wind and solar.


31:30 – Ken Girardin 

It was, well, yes, we’ve got these fairly low capacity factors for land-based wind, but look how much higher the capacity factors are. And that is essentially the percentage of a device’s total possible output that will come over the course of a period of time left to operate over the course of a year. You look at the high capacity factors on offshore wind, so we’re going to start moving in this direction, and at some point we will get it. So it was almost there to kind of coax people into the first step with the land-based wind and the land-based solar.


32:06 – Ken Girardin 

Which having the benefit of hindsight and looking at how that’s played out, I have all sorts of grievances to raise with the folks who are selling people a bill of goods back in 2016. We can talk more about that and not to go too far into ancient history. But a lot of where New York is today came from people failing to ask the right questions in 2016 about how stuff was going to play out. There were a lot of variables there that really in some cases were flat out misrepresented to New Yorkers.


32:37 – Robert Bryce 

And offshore wind was also viewed, I recall, by Natural Resources Defense Council, and I will name names, Kit Kennedy specifically saying, oh, we’ll close Indian Point and then we’ll replace the output with offshore wind. And this was one of the same arguments put forward by Riverkeeper that, oh, we didn’t need Indian Point because offshore wind was going to be so buffo that we didn’t need to have this onshore nuclear plant. We could replace this all with offshore wind. So you’ve talked about the attraction of it, but where are we now?


33:10 – Robert Bryce 

Where is New York now with regard to offshore wind? Weren’t some of those contracts recently rebid at much higher prices?


33:17 – Ken Girardin 

New York’s first offshore wind turbines are coming online now. These were built by the power authority that controls the grid on Long Island. It was a fairly small but very costly project that started under Governor Cuomo. Um, where they needed more, they needed more power at the tip of Long Island and they kind of bent some rules to go and do an RFP for offshore wind because no one looking for. No one looking for what they were looking for, just in terms of the profile electricity, would wake up and say, aha, let’s take this technology that we’ve never used in New York before and do this.


33:59 – Ken Girardin 

So you’ve got some turbines coming online. That’s been an eight or nine year process. For that stuff to happen. The biggest projects, two of the biggest projects that were kicked off after 2019 were actually just rebid by the state, where the companies had gone to the state and said together, hey, we need about million $10 more. I’m sorry, I wish. We need billion more than you’ve already promised us to operate. The state said, absolutely not. That’s terrible. And then a different state agency went back and gave them something in the neighborhood of billion more than they had asked for just recently.


34:38 – Ken Girardin 

And this has to do with the upheaval in that sector where Again when you are trying to make these decisions from the state bureaucracy rather than from the market and you’re saying we’re just going to go make an industry from scratch and we’re going to build supply chains from scratch and oh by the way we’re gonna require arbitrary amounts of that work to be done in new york works. And we’re not going to let you use the existing fleet from europe or asia that’s good at doing this or their cruise.


35:06 – Ken Girardin 

Then you run into complications. And we saw the combination of COVID, rising interest rates, and commodity costs caused a lot of these project costs that were calculated back in 2019, 2020 to explode. And so now where New York had this indefensible push into offshore wind that’s going to drive up electric rates statewide, you now have an extra costly indefensible push into offshore wind that’s going to drive up costs even more statewide.


35:39 – Robert Bryce 

So you’ve done some calculations, and I don’t know if they’re in the report or not. I was looking for it just a minute ago. But what are the latest costs per megawatt hour? Or do you have those numbers at hand? And how much this offshore juice is going to cost rate payers?


35:56 – Ken Girardin 

The latest strike prices and I’m giving this to everyone with the with the asterisk that we haven’t seen detailed numbers for these projects because the state only gives them to you a few sentences at a time in a press release. The latest average strike price over the life of these projects for either 25 or years 30 is going to be per megawatt hour. What a strike price means is this is the guaranteed amount that the project will get. So they’ll bid into the capacity market, they’ll get some money there, they’ll sell electricity into the market, and they’ll get some money from that.


36:38 – Ken Girardin 

They’re still going to be short of their strike price. And the state has said for the life of these projects, so going out to 2050, Give or take they’re going to guarantee this this money that’s a pretty bold statement to say we think until twenty fifty this is gonna be the best bet for technology that is nothing better is gonna come online with nuclear we’re not gonna get fusion we’re not gonna have some breakthroughs with. With solar or land-based wind or transmission or anything else.


37:07 – Ken Girardin 

So to go and lock in folks to make those payments past the careers of a lot of the people making the decisions when they will no longer be accountable for anything, this strikes me as unethical. I have been radicalized on the subject of generational equity since my kids were born, where I look at them and I say, how many decisions are we making today on the presumption that you, who I do not yet trust to vote, operate a vehicle, or cut with a butter knife, will be trusted, will be stuck with these things that you had nothing to do with years from now?


37:44 – Robert Bryce 

Well, so what, but this goes back to this idea around the, the, just the virtue of offshore wind, that there’s something somehow that this, this idea has captivated the regulators now in New York and saying, Oh, we’re just going to guarantee you this massive price, even though the cost of gas fired, I could look it up in New York ISO, but average wholesale price of, of, of electricity in New York today is what $40 a megawatt hour or something like that.


38:11 – Ken Girardin 

It spiked in 2022 when natural gas prices spiked, but it’s come down significantly since then. We’ve also had some of the lowest average cost days on record for natural gas on the grid in the past months when you adjust for inflation. So things are getting back to normal. I just come back to the ethics of all of this. And making that level of commitment for future people to pay for decisions made right now. I mean, just how much disregard do you have to have for future generations to be locking them in the way New York is now?


38:54 – Robert Bryce 

Well, how much of this is being driven by, but I like that idea, the disregard for future generations in terms of what their their cost burden will be for these technologies, which they are clearly saying, well, these are our favorites. We’re picking favorites here. We’re picking winners. That’s not even the start of it.


39:15 – Ken Girardin 

That’s not even the start of it. They picked a technology. Let’s start with that. So based on decisions that were made many years ago, they picked a specific technology. New York started issuing awards for offshore wind when only one company had a lease in New York state waters. Let’s ruminate on that for a moment there. The Public Service Commission, they’re following the law. The law says you must go and procure this offshore wind. Okay, they have to follow the law. We just talked about defending democracy.


39:46 – Ken Girardin 

They have to follow the law there. But the way that the procurements were made where they were, I would argue that they were kind of rushed before more companies could get leases in New York waters. The first projects that were awarded, one was in New York waters, one was not in New York waters. There was a concern for a while that offshore wind was going to pop up off the Hamptons. And the state was trying to avoid that. I think there are also questions about who some of the players are who are winning these things.


40:15 – Ken Girardin 

And they’re not doing competitive bidding the way you have competitive bidding to pave a road. The state says, here’s the engineering specs. You’re going to build this road, and you put your price in the envelope. They open it, and whoever’s got the lowest bid gets the bid. In this case, the state goes out there and says, well, OK, what are you looking to do? Where are you looking to do it? Do you have a lease? You must have a lease. To do this. And these contracts for tens of billions of dollars in total are getting awarded in this opaque process where the state will not release the scoring criteria for how different projects got picked.


40:55 – Ken Girardin 

And people should be cognizant. We’re not talking about You know a thousand people building a thousand turbines and the lowest cost ones getting to sell into the grid where we have normal competition on land with power plants this is a small group of developers were getting to name their price and I would say extort the state of new york in cases where they can say. Gosh interest rates are up you know all look at those steel prices like we’re having a hard time hiring. We’re going to need another 10 or billion 14 dollars.


41:29 – Ken Girardin 

Because the state’s already shown it’s willing to be extorted.


41:34 – Robert Bryce 

So. But again, I keep coming back to this, Ken, why, though, why is the state so willing to be extorted from where is this the power of I know from watching New York, I’ve done a fair amount of reporting in New York myself. That there are NGOs that are very powerful in Albany, that have a lot of political stroke in Albany. So why is the state so willing to be extorted for this technology that is clearly far more expensive than using the lowest cost generation, which would be natural gas?


42:11 – Robert Bryce 

Why is the state so willing to be duped or extorted here?


42:16 – Ken Girardin 

Well, let’s talk about the mechanics behind it. The Climate Act got voted on in the State Senate before members could even read the new language. And one of the new provisions was this requirement of offshore wind. There were no cost estimates given. So you had the state senate voting on this thing, and later the assembly, voting on it without knowing what it was going to cost. So we have the benefit of hindsight knowing now what it costs. They, at the time, were pressured by the governor and legislative leadership and by advocates to hurry up and write this blank check.


42:50 – Ken Girardin 

So we do have the benefit of hindsight with the cost. I’ve got to give them that in fairness.


43:03 – Robert Bryce 

So Cuomo bullied, to read it back to you, what you’re saying is that Cuomo bullied the legislators into agreeing to sign on to this essentially a black box, or that’s not exactly a blank check, on saying, oh, well, with climate action, we’ve got to do something here, you know, approve this bill. And then the process and the hard work of actually implementing it then was given over to the bureaucracy, which then says, well, the legislature gave us the authority.

Is that a simple way to think about it?


43:34 – Ken Girardin 

It is. And I’m sorry, the point I wanted to make before was lawmakers didn’t recognize the difference. And in fairness, because energy policy is kind of tough stuff to get your arms around. Lawmakers didn’t recognize the difference between zero emission power and zero emission power from offshore wind. Because I’m pretty confident that if the state had written an RFP just to bring zero emission power to New York City and Long Island, meeting different reliability specs for the readiness of different levels of capacity, I think you would have had a lot of competition.


44:13 – Ken Girardin 

I think you would have had competition from from Canada. I think you would have had competition potentially from some of the nuclear plants in Connecticut and New Jersey. I mean, it’s amazing to me that the state has been going gangbusters to build offshore wind turbines while the state of Connecticut has been having to bail out its nuclear power plant at Millstone, which is just about miles 30 away from Long Island. I think if we had a much more agnostic approach here, you would have seen more technologies, not just step in, but even some technologies flourish and mature more.


44:52 – Ken Girardin 

If the state were going to say, hey, we’re willing to spend billion 70, 80 dollars here, with these long-term commitments, you probably would have gotten much cooler stuff, which was the exact reason why the Climate Act had to be written to give the money only to offshore wind, because they would have been in a real brawl with some of these other technologies if they’d ever been subject to an apples to apples comparison.


45:19 – Robert Bryce 

were forced to compete, right? That if there was, or, oh, well, why would we build offshore wind if we can import this power from another state and have a long-term contract? Or buy it from Quebec Hydro, right?

That was the other possibility.


45:32 – Ken Girardin 

Right. And speaking of imports, can we just take a moment here to reflect on the fact that you have this tremendous amount of cabling going on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean for offshore wind purposes? Much with all this applause from the climate activists. But many of those same groups were adamantly opposed to cables going into New York pre-2010. There was a huge multi-year saga connecting Millstone Nuclear Power Plant and that general part of the New England grid to New York, where you had a lot of environmental groups really going to the mattresses trying to stop that project from coming online.


46:19 – Ken Girardin 

And it only got activated, this is the cross sound cable, it only got activated on an emergency basis. And we’re asked to completely forget those concerns that were raised about our precious seafloors in 2002, 2003, now that it’s the favored technology, now that it’s the fashionable cosmopolitan European technology that’s going to be going in and doing tremendous amounts of more disruption on the seafloor. And to be sure, I never make the argument that you should not build something because you’re going to have an environmental disruption.


46:56 – Ken Girardin 

I believe in weighing trade-offs. Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, open my eyes to trade-offs. I look at them everywhere. I understand anything humans try to do that interacts with the environment, there are going to be trade-offs. I just ask people to be a little more honest about where they’ve raised alarms about trade-offs in one area. Please be consistent about it, especially when you’re talking about to 50 times 100 the same trade-off happening somewhere else.


47:28 – Robert Bryce 

Yeah, I mean, that’s the one that just leaves me gobsmacked. And it’s amazing how much spin has been applied in terms of the offshore wind effort. I was just looking at this one report out of Brown University alleging that, oh, these offshore wind opponents are all being fueled, you know, getting money from hydrocarbon companies, which is just a I mean, it’s it’s all so much made up stuff. Right. But that Imagine if the oil and gas industry wanted to come into the East Coast and put in not just dozens of offshore platforms, but hundreds.


47:59 – Robert Bryce 

I mean, the hue and cry would be unbelievable, but because it’s wind energy that somehow putting tens or dozens or hundreds of offshore platforms for wind energy In the middle of north atlantic right whale habitat. Oh, well, never mind, you know climate change therefore the whales don’t matter. I mean The level of hypocrisy here the level of what I I think michael schellenberg has right environmental betrayal just missed it truly staggers me and that these ngos would be so hypocritical about about protection for whales.


48:30 – Robert Bryce 

I’m old enough to remember when these groups were all about protecting whales. No longer. I mean, it truly is stunning. Or am I just too sensitive on this?


48:40 – Ken Girardin 

maybe too sensitive on the animals.


48:44 – Ken Girardin 

In all seriousness, if you look at where… This is on a separate climate issue within New York, but if you look at the adamant opposition to any type of natural gas exploration in the Southern Tier, The southern tier is the counties in New York, south of Buffalo, south of Syracuse, south of Rochester. Those are the ones who border Pennsylvania. These are the counties where some of the workers going to work on well sites in Pennsylvania were staying in 2008, 2009, when the Marcellus play was first really hot.


49:24 – Ken Girardin 

These are areas that didn’t recover their jobs lost in the recession. Not the COVID recession, not the 2008 recession, the recession. 2001 These are parts of the state where the job loss and the population loss is a stinging indictment of state policy. And you have folks who from the comfort of Albany, want to prevent them from doing what their neighbors a mile down the road, in some cases, were allowed to do on the Pennsylvania side of the border, which is drill for natural gas.


50:04 – Ken Girardin 

Something that wouldn’t radically change the jobs picture, but it would unlock some wealth for a part of the state that has really been economically left behind for the past four decades.


50:16 – Robert Bryce 

So here you’re clearly talking about drilling, hydraulic fracturing. This, of course, was made illegal under the Cuomo administration by the Department of Environmental Conservation. If memory serves, again, not voted on by the Assembly, but again, a bureaucratic move that, while Pennsylvania now is producing, I don’t know the exact numbers, billions of cubic feet of natural gas per day, and sending that into the marketplace in New York, even though the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is very similar into some of the areas in underlying New York, none of that mineral wealth, none of that hydrocarbon wealth can be tapped because of this.


50:56 – Robert Bryce 

Is it the climatism that prevails in New York politics? How would you describe the reason why that’s been made illegal?


51:08 – Ken Girardin 

Absolutism. I would say there is an absolute opposition to things with fossil fuels, even if they can be used to lower greenhouse gas emissions. An example that I always give folks is looking at homes in New England and parts of New York that are still using heating oil. Where folks would like to not have to worry about having their tanks filled. Often, it’s less expensive to have natural gas than heating oil. But you’ve had this opposition, both in state governments in New England and in Albany, to anything that could be seen as locking people in further to fossil fuels longer term.


51:57 – Ken Girardin 

And just going back to how people matter in all of this, completely lost in this conversation is anything about the non-carbon emissions. So we’re talking ozone, we’re talking about sulfur dioxide, we’re talking about things that you really want to avoid going into young lungs, particularly in denser environments like urban environments. And we are at this very weird point where there’s so much There’s been so much fixation on the climate piece of stuff that the State Department of Environmental Conservation in particular has really strayed away from its original mission, which was conservation and the direct impact on human health.


52:40 – Ken Girardin 

They weren’t designed to save the world. They weren’t designed to go out there. I mean, we can have a separate conversation about what the proper role of government is with respect to climate stuff, because I don’t think it’s zero. I’m not, I have a lot of views on this. My concern in terms of New York’s economic health is the perils of going in alone. And the perils of that absolutism are you have folks in rural New York in particular who have been completely left behind by the national economy.


53:12 – Ken Girardin 

They’ve been left behind by a series of strong state economies at different points in the past four years. And you’re going to foreclose the possibility of them either drilling for the stuff or getting any kind of benefit from being able to upgrade to natural gas. And it just shows a real, I don’t want to call it an ivory tower thing, but it shows just this real disconnect between policymakers and the folks who are being ruled.

I agree.


53:48 – Robert Bryce 

I think that that’s… And it’s an urban-rural divide. It’s a left-right divide. It’s Republican-Democrat. But it’s also a class divide, right?

I think that this is a key part of it.


54:00 – Ken Girardin 

Oh, I mean, it’s a luxury. I mean, there’s caviar, there’s scotch, $300 and there’s environmentalism. They are top-shelf luxury items when it comes to New York. Because if you’re a lawmaker, and it doesn’t matter what party you’re in, Oftentimes, if you are in one of these rural parts of New York where the environmental agenda is preventing economic growth, you’re seeing what the consequences are.


54:37 – Robert Bryce 

But let’s talk about that because this is the other part that is happening in New York and it’s Article 94C, if I’m remembering correctly, my part of the New York Code, that is now allowing bureaucrats in Albany to override local zoning when it comes to the siting of wind and solar projects. So this seems another part of this broader agenda that we’re talking about here, which uh, it seems to me that it fits right in with this disconnect you’re talking about but it’s it’s a culture war between the urban america urban urban new york and and rural new york, but it’s also this Heavy-handed view of well any renewable project is a good one and therefore It doesn’t matter whether you in in uh, you know, heck what is it in?


55:17 – Robert Bryce 

You know small towns in new york or yates or somerset counties with they don’t want these wind project Well, you’re going to be forced to take them How did this come about? How did that provision in the New York Code, and it passed the Assembly, if I remember, just about two years ago. What brought that? Why was that what I would consider a draconian legislation? How did that come to be?


55:43 – Ken Girardin 

The state, beginning in 2016, set these pretty sweeping goals for how much wind and solar it was going to have, dialed it up even further from to in 2018. And that required citing a whole lot of solar and wind. And I’m pretty sympathetic to arguments about property rights. I think we should have, again, a full conversation about trade-offs. And externalities that folks are going to have if they want to bring renewable projects online on their land. But a lot of these developers found that New York’s land use processes can be very tough.


56:25 – Ken Girardin 

And they’re tough for everyone, not just for wind and solar. They’re tough for people to build a church or build a factory. And the state gave What I would say is extreme special treatment to the wind and solar folks to help get them through the regulatory process and to overrule a lot of local governments. On things. That’s something that I think a lot of folks in the private sector wish they had. I’d say as a localist who doesn’t like to see local governments steamrolled without some major pressing state concern that it was a mistake to go this way, but local control got sacrificed on the altar of the state’s energy goals.


57:11 – Robert Bryce 

And it’s happened in other, I see this as a democratic issue, fundamental democracy issue, but the other states that have done this are ones that are controlled by the Democratic Party. So Illinois, California, New York, and Michigan most recently, right? So these are legislatures controlled by Democrats and governors who are Democrats saying essentially to rural Americans in their states, yeah, screw you, too bad. You’re gonna get these projects whether you like it or not.


57:41 – Robert Bryce 

Uh, I I think it it again flies into the face of this whole idea of green clean energy, you know, it’s green clean, but only if uh, You’re the one that’s able to force it on the these local communities because the local communities are saying we don’t want these projects and there’s a big push on in the media now to kind of portray rural americans as oh these bunch of knuckle knuckle draggers will The people in rural areas are just like people in urban areas. Everyone cares about their neighborhoods, but in these cases, they’re being steamrolled, I think, by the interest of big money and big business.


58:14 – Ken Girardin 

The way this is going to get really interesting really quickly is when these energy storage projects that are necessary to back up the offshore wind turbines start getting cited. You’ve seen a lot of people have raised concerns about there’s been a few fires at some of these energy storage sites. I take a fairly sober, long view of this. This is a new technology coming online. There’s going to be hiccups. There’s going to be bumps. But having just watched the state supersede local control to get all these wind and solar projects cited, they’re probably going to have to do the same thing because the energy storage projects need to get cited closer to where they are actually needed, where the load is on the grid that needs to be met by storage.


58:56 – Ken Girardin 

So we’re in for, as the great police officer John McLean said, welcome to the party, pal. There are going to be a lot of folks in areas where their lawmakers might have previously applauded the overriding of local control. They’re probably going to be on the receiving end of that. At some point in the next three to four years, as more and more of these energy projects need to get sited in the suburbs, in cities.


59:27 – Robert Bryce 

To read that back, you’re saying the conflicts over batteries are going to be the next big land use issue.


59:35 – Ken Girardin 

I think this has been a two-edged sword that has cut a lot of people in New York going back more than a decade. Remember, there was the fight over whether zoning could be used to block fracking in the southern tier. And for about a day, a lot of environmentalists became very staunch localists. Of course, zoning is sacrosanct. It’s in our founding documents. It’s crucial. And then you turn around and then they want to overrule it. I think we’re going to start to see a lot of suburbanites rediscover the preciousness of local control and local decision making when the projects are sited near them.


1:00:16 – Robert Bryce 

That’s a really important bit of history, Ken, because the Natural Resources Defense Council led a very high-profile campaign to encourage local communities in New York to ban hydraulic fracturing, right, and asserting local control. But now when it comes to wind and solar, oh, never mind.


1:00:33 – Ken Girardin 

And that’s why being intellectually consistent is so important.

That’s why- It’s so rare.


1:00:39 – Ken Girardin 

You have to, you know, I can’t weep about a few dead hawks one day and then say, you know, I celebrate opening a factory somewhere, environmental consequences be damned. Like we have to be, we need to be consistent. And this is something that’s really been poisoning our discourse where people change their opinions on institutions and practices depending on whether it’s helping their team these different days and that’s one of the benefits of being a nonpartisan organization where I you know, I don’t have to see the world in shades of gray.


1:01:12 – Ken Girardin 

I can call it like I see it. It’s it’s one of the best places I can imagine working.


1:01:17 – Robert Bryce 

Well, that’s great. And I like the way you say that the tone in your voice when you say that’s great to be able to love what you’re doing. My guest again is my friend Ken Girardin. He’s the research director at the Empire Center and the author of a great new report is terrific when called green guardrails guiding New York’s drive to lower emissions. Which should be a warning, a very clear warning to policymakers and voters in other states about the exorbitant cost of the attempt to go to net zero and deploy massive amounts of wind and solar without any regard for cost or reliability.


1:01:56 – Robert Bryce 

Let me just one more question on green guardrails and then we’ll close, Ken, because we’ve been talking now for about an hour. What’s the one takeaway you want people to get from this report here? What’s, you know, if this is an obvious journalist question, right, but it’s one that you worked on this for a long time, you worked on it for months, and you’ve thought about this for days and days. 

What’s the takeaway here?


1:02:19 – Ken Girardin 

state lawmakers are elected to make hard choices, they need to get back in the driver’s seat of climate policy in New York. And they should stay in the driver’s seat in every state because we’re seeing the consequences, the early consequences, but they’re concerning consequences of allowing the bureaucracy as a whole to go and set policy and create taxes and make decisions that should be reserved for the people’s elected representatives. You get better policy that way, you get greater accountability that way, and best of all, you get a transparent process.


1:02:57 – Ken Girardin 

So even if you don’t like the policy outcome, you at least see it, understand it, and you can do something about it because there’s a state assemblyman you can call, or there’s a state senator you can write to, or there’s an office you can run for yourself. But the big takeaway from New York is it shouldn’t be turned over to a bureaucracy because the odds of them finding the best way to get from point A to point B is actually extremely low.


1:03:24 – Robert Bryce 

That’s a good summary. I like that. So two last questions, Ken, what are you reading? I know you have three young kids who keep you very busy and your job as well. But besides One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, what books are you reading?


1:03:42 – Ken Girardin 

I have a stack of books I’m working my way through actually about labor policy in Wisconsin. I’m working my way through More Than They Bargained For, which is about Governor Scott Walker’s labor 2011 reforms in Wisconsin.


1:04:00 – Robert Bryce 

Anything else?


1:04:02 – Ken Girardin

And a lot of Just Go to Bed.


1:04:07 – Robert Bryce 

And your oldest is eight and eight, six and five. What are you, how old are your children? 


Ken Girardin 

Eight, six and two and a half.


1:04:14 – Robert Bryce 

Gotcha. Yeah. Well, uh, good on you. And so finally, Ken, uh, what gives you hope?


1:04:22 – Ken Girardin 

I think human beings, for our entire history as a species, have always moved towards, on a long enough timeline, towards progress. We have always moved towards being more prosperous, more comfortable, healthier, more civil to each other. Think about the discourse we’re having here. You and I don’t agree on everything, but neither of us have walloped the other over the head for it. Technology keeps getting better. People are living longer. All the indicators for humanity are positive.


1:04:59 – Ken Girardin 

So I think even where we see public policy that we might not like in the short term, the reality is that humans are very dynamic. We can find solutions, and we always are pointed towards moving to that better place. I’m an optimist. I don’t join folks in despair. I know a lot of folks worry about out-migration from New York. They worry about one political party doing something, or another political party doing something, or the courts doing something. And I try to bring everything back to the potential that we all have as individuals, the potential we have as a society, as a species, to do good stuff and to make life better on net for everyone.


1:05:44 – Robert Bryce 

Well, I like that. I like that a lot. Because I’m an optimist as well. To quote the late Molly Ivins, I’m optimistic to the point of idiocy. Which I like that phrase. And she used that a lot. So I am as well. It’s great to talk to you, Ken. Congratulations on this report. Again, my guest, Ken Girardin, he’s on Twitter, at policyengineer. You can find him at And look for his new report, Green Guardrails. Well done, Ken.


1:06:12 – Ken Girardin 

Thank you, Robert.

Good to be with you.


1:06:14 – Robert Bryce 

And thanks to all of you out there in podcast land. Tune in to the next episode of the Power Hungry podcast. And while you’re at it, follow me on Substack,


1:06:24 – Robert Bryce 

Until next time, see ya.

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