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Category: Home Improvement

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Home Gardens: Farm to Table

Farm to Table: Sunflower GardenEver since I was a little girl, I wanted to live on a farm, and the idea of plucking my own eggs each morning, and harvesting fresh herbs for spaghetti still excites me. Luckily, the farm to table movement is already underway, and even though it seems ‘trendy,’ (as we learned in yesterday’s blog post) this practice is centuries old.

People aren’t just thinking of ways to improve curb appeal anymore — we’ve also started to see an emerging trend of community gardens cropping up (pun intended), as well as a resurgence of local farmers and artisanal markets. What’s causing this recent demand for local produce? If you’re likewise a fan of Chef’s Table, you might credit Dan and David Barber of Blue Hill Farms for really promoting this idea, which aligns perfectly with their slogan, “Great cooking starts with great ingredients” (https://www.bluehillfarm.com/know-thy-farmer).

So what exactly is farm-to-table food? Check out a helpful link explaining the overview of the modernized movement, including some of the earlier roots of the movement: https://www.webstaurantstore.com/blog/postdetails.cfm?post=1532. One major piece of the food-supply-chain puzzle is processed foods, particularly in the United States where convenience is king, and as companies have discovered more and more re-heatable recipes, processed foods have increased all over the world, with health taking a backseat to pace. For this reason, as well as the environmental costs associated with large-scale farming and slaughtering practices, people are seeking out ways to mitigate these factors as a part of their diets.

Recently, I was introduced to someone who has a small plot of land (less than an acre) in a neighborhood right at the tip of metropolitan Austin. You can see the Austin skyline from a couple of blocks from her home, yet she has pet chickens that produce eggs for her family daily! Now, admittedly, when she told me this, and then handed me a carton of eggs with three different colored varieties, it was safe to say I was a little nervous to try them — after all, they’re not even FDA approved. Having done her research, she rattled off the names of each breed of chicken and their corresponding egg, and also provided several personal case studies of delicious breakfasts and chicken-pot-pie recipes that would impress any Top Chef, while briefly noting the perk of Homestead Tax exemption as the cherry on top (I’ll have to get the specifics on the applicable exemptions, but for a short list of Homestead exemptions in Texas see here: https://www.traviscad.org/forms/forms-exemptions/). Home Gardening

At the end of her speech I was hooked — and dying to try one of the fresh eggs she’d supplied us. The next morning my husband and I cooked eggs, toast, and bacon — in attempt to really highlight the flavor of the eggs — and I was pleasantly surprised with, no joke, one of the best tasting eggs in my entire life.

So is farm to table truly worth it? In my opinion, and not just on the egg harvest but also based on my own small garden, I’d definitely say so! Whether you’re raising one, or fifty goats for milk and cheese, or growing your own veggies or herbs to spruce up dinner, your farm to table experience is awaiting you, and is probably a lot easier than you think. What plants are local in your area? How much space do you have? Researching the answers to these questions will be your very first step in creating your at-home-farm. What will you grow next? Feel free to add comments about your farm-to-table experiences below!

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Managing the Farm: Home Gardens

While it didn’t feel appropriate to call this blog post part of the “Right to Capture” series, the theme is similarly linked by reducing your overall cost of living, and/or carbon footprint, using techniques that have been around for centuries. This blog post focuses on an ancient favorite: the Home Garden!

The worlds very first ‘home garden’ — think hunting and gathering humans — is thought to have been developed around 9000 BC, according to gardenvisit.com (https://www.gardenvisit.com/blog/where-was-the-worlds-first-garden-made/). While the tools used to build today’s home garden may have changed drastically, the practice of growing flowers and (fruits, and) vegetables really hasn’t.

Returning to a previously helpful site, check out the City of Arlington website for some great ideas about planting edible home-gardens: https://www.arlingtontx.gov/city_hall/departments/stormwater_management/stormwater_education/texas_smart_yards/integrated_pest_management — I mention edible, because if you’re treating the soils and pests naturally, you’ll get better produce! The first few steps really outline my own personal philosophy on maintaining a healthy home garden, so I’m adding it the excerpt below for reference:

“Step 1: Plant Healthy

Build and maintain healthy soil. It is important that you know your soil. Homeowners should order or purchase a simple but reliable soil test to find out what essential nutrients are currently available in their soil and to determine what additives may need to be added to provide the environment for a healthy landscape. For more information about soil testing procedures and prices go to soiltesting.tamu.edu. If you use fertilizers to add nutrients look for products that contain natural organic or slow-release fertilizers. Your yard is made up of a community of beneficial organisms that can help maintain your landscapes and the improper use of fertilizers can damage beneficial organisms in the soil which are essential for healthy soils and plants. Composting helps certain soil types hold nutrients and water, loosens clay soils which allows air and water into the soil and strengthens root growth. It also feeds the beneficial organisms so they will feed and protect your plants. Mulching stabilizes soil temperatures, prevents weeds, conserves water and helps feed soil for healthier plants. For more information on local Composting classes visit City of Arlington Recycling and Garbage. Plant Native – Planting with native or adaptive plants will provide beauty all year round in your garden.
Make sure your plant selection is appropriate for your region. Develop a placement plan that uses native plants and drought tolerant species to decrease maintenance requirements. Seek the advice of a Texas Master Gardener, local nursery or local garden club about what plants or grasses are right for your landscape and soil type.”

(https://www.arlingtontx.gov/city_hall/departments/stormwater_management/stormwater_education/texas_smart_yards/integrated_pest_managementHome Gardens: Vertical Farming

The additional steps outlined in this article are useful so please do continue on using the links provided above, but also note that you’ll likely need to read about what plants are local to your area, and when it’s best to plant them — along with some trial and error — as you get started on your own home garden! For example, while I’m by no means a green thumb yet, this year I’m experimenting with winterizing my tomato plants in hopes of re-using the same plant that grew tomatoes for us all summer long. I’ll keep the blog updated sparingly as we winter the winter together this year, though so far I’m planning to keep the tomatoes inside in the southern-facing window(s) of our home just in case we experience any fluke freezes this year!

Keep in mind also that there are a ton of ways to garden outside of adding a garden box to your backyard! There is also hydroponic and/or vertical farming (featured left) — which is a particularly helpful option to those with smaller yard space or for people living in apartments. Additionally, vertical gardens can be really effective in helping you offset not only your cost of veggies year-round, but also are effective in managing the adverse effects of poor weather, since they’re slightly more mobile than your typical raised bed.

For those of you advanced gardening students that are ready to move on to the full farm-to-table lifestyle, please continue to read on this week for more tips!

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“Right to Capture State” – Part 2 of 2

Right to Capture: SolarSo, now that you’ve got your rainwater storage system set up from yesterday — great job on that by the way (!) — you’re ready to move on to step #2 in taking advantage of the ‘Right to Capture’ state laws, at least as they apply to solar energy. I preach to friends and family to ‘go solar’ if and when they can, because I genuinely believe in taking advantage of laws.

Alright! All joking aside, I believe in the product, and believe that the cost is well worth the benefits gained in installing solar panels on your rooftop. Because I work for a solar company, I’m inherently biased, sure, however that also implies at least a fair amount of insight into the companies that can deliver for you, and to be honest there are quite a few all over Texas to choose from.

Right to Capture, The Skinny:

You can “Go Solar,” as we say in the industry, for $0 down — however the system itself is costly, and you’ll want to make sure you have access to the online portal immediately following the installation, just in case some squirrels chew through the wiring and you need to call your installer to come out and take a look. If you have at least a 600 credit score, there are several finance companies you can likely choose from, and will ideally reduce your energy bill in the process. I say ideally here because energy usage is really the driving factor in a high energy bill (though, you will likely still need to pay administrative and/or energy transmission costs to your local energy provider). If you turn off all of your electricity, lights, unplug anything that has constant energy power — from digital clocks to refrigerators — and only use a gas-powered stove to heat your food when needed, you would expect to see a pretty low bill, right?

Well, the same administrative and energy transmission costs apply even to those with a residential solar system, even if your system covers 100% of your energy needs. Particularly in the summer months, or roughly April-September in Texas, it’s easy to “offset” your energy usage with solar energy from your southern-facing rooftop solar system; in the winter, it’s a slightly different story. For this reason, it’s unfeasible to make the switch to solar energy 100% without battery-storage or a generator — or simply by connecting to a grid with a highly technical management system, but why does this occur during the winter months? Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems produce less energy in the winter for one very simple reason: the days are shorter, and thus there is less sunlight to absorb (at least in the northern hemisphere, and the southern hemisphere would be just the opposite).

Residential Solar, The Rub: (more…)

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“Right to Capture State” – Part 1 of 2

You’ve likely heard it from your realtor, contractor, or perhaps even at the local pond and garden store — but even if you’re hearing it here first, in Texas, we live in a “right to capture” state.Capture the Water For those of you interested in learning more about what this means, check out the following links towards the bottom of this blog post that explain the applicable Texas laws in greater detail. In laymen’s terms, the idea is that *any oil, water, sunshine, or other natural resources* that fall within your property line belong to you (*deferring to local laws and common sense of course). Not to mention, there are incentives for you to do so, for example, for…

⦁ Austin, Hays County, Georgetown, New Braunfels, Round Rock, San Marcos, San Antonio, (and more!): https://www.watercache.com/rebates/austin#:~:text=City%20of%20Austin%20Rainwater%20Collection%20System%20Rebate⦁ &⦁ text=The%20rebate%20program%20is%20structured,exceed%2050%25%20of%20system%20cost
⦁ Dallas / Frisco: https://www.friscotexas.gov//357/Rain-Barrel-Program; and some helpful information about rain-water catchment systems in Texas can be found, here on Arlington’s website:  https://www.arlingtontx.gov/city_hall/departments/stormwater_management/stormwater_education/texas_smart_yards/rain_barrels_and_cisterns

⦁ Houston: https://www.rainwatersolutions.com/products/city-of-houston-gbrc

There is a TON of great information online about what a ‘rainwater collection’ system is, as well as how to build one. If you’re curious to learn more about others in this space, check out the following links, here:

⦁ Rainwater Harvesting Laws and Incentives in Texas: https://www.twdb.texas.gov/publications/shells/RainwaterHarvesting.pdf; including an annual rainwater collection competition(!): http://www.twdb.texas.gov/innovativewater/rainwater/ Right to Capture: Rain Barrel

⦁ Details about the efficacy and importance of rainwater collection, from watercashe.com: https://www.watercache.com/education/rainwater-harvesting-101

⦁ How-to Build a Rainwater catchment system in your home: https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/tips-for-installing-a-rainwater-collection-system/

 

Have you build one already? Please feel free to describe your experience in the comments section below!

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Solar Industry Insights –The Ugly: Solar Scammers

It’s never fun to feel like you got the bad end of a deal. Solar, when done correctly, is cost-efficient and saves you money. The install process should take roughly two (for experienced installers with no delays or odd tile configurations) to four (for newer companies, or complicated project layouts) months to complete – from signing the contract, to installation and interconnection (exception: see Houston city limits which has a longer PTO time-frame than other Texas cities). Anything outside of this, is either an exception or a scam. Unfortunately, scammers don’t always tell you when they’re planning to scam you, and mistakes do happen, but here are a few things to look out for: 1) how does the salesperson act during your consultation? What can they tell you about other solar companies in the area – and how do they compare? Are they making promises you know they can’t keep (example: some utilities have a monthly interconnection fee for connecting to the grid, so if you’re promised a 100% bill offset, you should consider how your utility company operates to see whether this is feasible – even though solar absolutely can and will save customers money – in most cases, a 100% bill swap is not a reasonable expectation). What do they know about the installation process? Perhaps they’re new and still learning the operations side of the business, but a good solar company will ensure that their staff is willing and able to answer questions about a solar install, because it will take time and will require your signature along the way (see HOA approvals, as one example). If you’re left feeling confident that they’re able to answer your questions, have good examples of their companies’ market differentiation, and can answer some basic questions about the installation process (or at least are willing/able to look into it and get you a quick answer back), then chances are – you’re in good hands!  

What do you do however when you’ve met with the recommended minimum of three companies, all of which had similar pricing and panel efficiency, and you’re still not sure who to choose? Of course you should check out their online reviews, their website, BBB profile, etcetera – but you can also just try calling their main line. Who answers? How long does it take to get a call back if no one is available? These are fantastic indicators of a good company because it will give you insight into being their customer – if they don’t get back to you now, chances are they’re going to take their time answering your questions even after you sign on the dotted line, which could have implications about how they operate behind the scenes.

Beware of copy cats! Recently we had an issue with a customer, who said they had hired SUNTEX to install their project however it wasn’t us! Unfortunately given the nature of this industry, this happens more often than you’d think – and I’ve already experienced it at at least two solar companies I’ve worked with in the past two years. Copy cats hurt our business, hurt our industry, and most importantly, hurt our customers, so it’s absolutely something we try to avoid whenever possible. The best way to mitigate this, is to simply explain the differences in our two companies and continue to provide excellent customer service to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace for our customers. If you come across one of these companies, please do your due diligence before purchasing a system! Solar companies that are worth their salt will be communicative – and it’s no lie to admit they will compete for your business – but they will also understand that you need to explore all of your options before signing up, and be willing to answer your questions before you do! Have questions for us, give us a call today and test it out for yourself!

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Solar Industry Insights – The Bad: What Solar Companies Don’t Want you to Know

These days it’s easy to accidentally give your information to someone or some company without ever meaning to do so, and you don’t necessarily have to send money to any foreign prince to be part of an internet scam. Lucky for consumers, there have been some recent data protection laws passed in the United States allowing people to choose which apps track their data and/or share it across other platforms. There are always loopholes however, and some companies within the solar industry are not so forthcoming about what they intend to do with your information.

One example of this type of data breech occurs in the solar industry on ads or websites that ask you to fill out information to receive a free quote. When you enter your information into one of these sites, you’ll inevitably end up at a screen that just says “companies will contact you to provide a quote” because it’s not in their best interest to give you a straight-forward proposal – instead, these companies sell your data to three (or more) solar companies who then contact you to set up an appointment to get the free quote. In some cases, this goes smoothly and you’re able to meet with and compare reputable companies in your area – in other cases however, your phone number and contact information will get sold to multiple solar companies that will call you over and over again until you agree to an appointment, or ask to be placed on their “no call list.” There may still be plenty of good information on their website about the cost of solar, or what things to look out for – just don’t enter your phone number on their website unless you’d like to be contacted.

While many people don’t like door-to-door agents, the truth is that solar companies that have at least some component of door-to-door salesman are doing a few things right, namely, not selling your data to others – but they’re also able to employ younger, less-experienced staff who can get on-the-job training and improve their knowledge of the solar industry as they do.

In reality, if you haven’t come across anyone in your neighborhood, I’d recommend spending just a little bit of time researching solar companies in your area, and then ask them to provide you with a quote directly – they’ll be more than happy to supply you with one, and won’t have any incentive to share your information to other competitors. Consultations should take about 45 minutes due to the complexity and customization of these home-improvement projects, and is well worth spending the time to sit down with someone to answer your questions before you move forward. You’ll want to look for the best products (see our blog post on solar panel efficiency for a quick read on what this should look like), at the best price (it’s recommended that you get at least three quotes to compare), and with superior customer service – which you can decide for yourself based on your own personal preferences and needs (but you should also check out their online reviews and ask for references when needed – good companies will always have a few happy customers willing to talk about their experience).

The moral of the story is, don’t sign up for a free quote on a generic solar site – ask for one from companies directly to avoid a data breech, or getting hounded by phone calls. Be nice to door-knockers, they’re actually doing the industry a big favor by learning the right way to approach customers and starting from the ground up – not to mention if they’re door knocking in Texas, they’re clearly willing to put in the time and effort to engage with homeowners in one of the hottest places on earth! Finally, if you do find yourself in a situation where you’re getting hounded by different companies, ask to be added to their “do not call” list and they cannot contact you again – you can always call them back, and remove your name from the list should you decide you do want a quote from said company. If you still have questions about how this works, the price of solar, or how to get a quote, contact us directly today: https://suntexllc.com/contact-us/! We’re happy to help you answer questions as you do your research on going solar.

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Solar Industry: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This week we focus on the Solar industry in Texas, and the players shaping that industry. As an insider, I can tell you there is a lot going on behind the scenes, both good and bad, but there are always signs pointing to which companies are doing things right, and which are cutting corners.

To start things off on a positive note, let’s take a look atThe Good”. One of the more obvious benefits of solar companies is their dedication to reducing greenhouse gases. Thus far, while Texas leads the nation in wind energy production, they have been trailing behind California in solar production for years – and one thing any Texan knows, is that there is plenty of sunshine in this state! According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas produces 15 GW of utility-scale solar energy, and “Texas will add 10 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar capacity by the end of 2022” (See full report here: https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=47636). None of this would be possible without solar companies, particularly those that have been installing solar for some time now and have thus positioned themselves perfectly for this moment. The report continues to further outline solar production capacity in Texas based on 2020 rates, saying “The installation of 2.5 GW of solar capacity in 2020 marked the beginning of the solar boom in Texas. We expect the state to add another 4.6 GW of solar capacity in 2021 and 5.4 GW in 2022, which will bring total installed solar capacity in Texas to 14.9 GW.” The Good 

With this increase in solar energy capacity, the state will be primed to tackle the climate crisis head-on, and hopefully our leadership will further this initiative allowing home-owners to go solar with little overall cost. This is where we review benefit #2 of solar energy companies: lobbying power. In 2021, immediately following the winter storm that killed somewhere between 150-700+ Texas residents, wind and solar energy came under pressure by the state legislature, which was already working to increase distribution costs of going solar via SB03, SB1278, and HB4466. Of the three of these bills, only one passed (SB03), which solar companies get at least partial credit for, since they banded together to stop them. Until we have a higher solar adoption rate, incentives for home owners should continue (and in my humble opinion, increase) so that home owners aren’t bearing the brunt of the climate crisis in both fiscal and environmental costs, as they are now. Thanks to solar companies, you might not have to – though calling your elected representatives to let them know this is something you care about never hurts.

One huge win that solar companies have enabled, and which is a large reason most homeowners “go solar,” is the decrease in the overall cost of solar technology. Looking at an article produced by Energy Sage, it’s easy to see that the overall efficiency of solar cells has increased drastically – from when they were first introduced, and were only ~6% efficient, to today’s panels which are anywhere from 18-24% efficient (which produces more than enough electricity for your home, though they’re steadily increasing in efficiency each year). This translates to needing fewer panels to achieve the same energy output, and a more efficient system overall – greatly reducing the overall cost of going solar. Check out the graph from energysage.com to see what I mean (directly below; https://news.energysage.com/solar-panel-efficiency-cost-over-time/).

Solar Industry Data - Panel Efficiency

The article goes even further to outline this incredible cost savings, in outlining the cost per watt of an average solar-panel system just 10 years ago, in comparison to cost per watt of solar panel systems today – “Over a decade ago, in 2009, the cost of a solar panel installation was $8.50 per watt. The solar industry today looks very different: in addition to solar panel efficiency increasing dramatically, solar panel producers have significantly improved their manufacturing processes. Solar installers, too, can deploy solar PV across the United States more efficiently now than they could ten years ago. The result: the price of solar has fallen dramatically, to just $2.81/watt” (https://news.energysage.com/solar-panel-efficiency-cost-over-time/). Of course those of us that are aware of the term “economies of scale” are likely aware that this business phenomenon must occur in successful industries in order to continue, however I think a huge thank you also goes to all of you! Customers and early adopters who have gone solar before this year are owed a huge debt of gratitude for supporting solar companies in this endeavor to improve the cost and efficiency of solar and supportive technologies (see micro-inverters).

Last but not least, one of the best things about solar companies is their customer service (and because there are so many solar companies in Texas, if you get bad service from one, you can and should switch to another since there are plenty of companies working hard to go above and beyond for their customers). Because of the high cost of solar projects, and due to the unique energy needs of each customer, solar companies often still meet homeowners in their homes to discuss their custom project before any decisions are made. You’ll need an electrician to sign off on your project (at a minimum, because you should also have an engineer design your solar system for maximum efficiency and to reduce the time spent going back and forth with your city and utility companies during the permitting and interconnection processes), so the beauty in this complex process is that most solar companies provide all of this for you! Though some are better communicators than others, every solar company that has successfully installed a solar project (and actively monitors your solar production data), has completed these steps on your behalf, meaning less leg-work for you to complete to get your project installed. So, if you encounter a “door-knocker” in the solar industry, know that they are there to communicate this process, and set up a time to complete a custom report (based on your energy bill) so you’re able to get all of your questions answered in an efficient manner! They’re not there just to talk your ear off, or ruin your Saturday. You’ll likely need to set up a time for an energy consultant to come back over to your home to discuss your specific proposal – a level of customer service not seen in many other industries these days. When is the last time your doctor made a house call?

There are plenty of fabulous players in the solar game, the trick is finding the right one for you. Look for a company with a few years of experience, or with several installations to point to – and if their sales pitch is too pushy, kindly tell them no thank you, and look for another. Best of luck!

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Welcome Back!

We’re back, and Wow what an exciting month it’s been! If you’ve been following along with the blog this year, Thank you so much! I sincerely apologize for our delay. We’ve finished making changes to the website and I’m happy to report, we’re back with new and improved content. So feel free to check out the site, or feel free to reach out directly via phone, email, or using our new online chat feature if you’ve got any questions for us regarding solar panels, roofing, insulation, window repair, gutter installation, or if you’ve got questions about our wide range of Smart Home services. We’re happy to help walk you through an energy analysis on your home, and just need your energy bill to get started on a free consultation – so don’t wait any longer, give us a call today!

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Product Deep Dive: Energy Efficient Windows

When I bought my first home, I remember asking the inspector whether or not there were any energy efficiency requirements for new homes, and whether or not our potential home had any of these upgrades (I know this is still fairly new territory in terms of construction and legislation, however I was mostly curious about two things: kill switches, and window energy efficiency. According to Instructables.com, a kill switch is “is a separate electrical AC switch to be used for cutting off the electrical power that is consumed by a device. This is convenient for reducing stand-by electricity consumption and for manually switching devices. In most cases, a luminous switch is being applied.” (https://www.instructables.com/Hack-a-power-outlet-kill-switch/) – though unlike the steps outlined in this article, I would not recommend modifying the kill switches in your home without an electrician present, this article does outline what they are and how they’re used, as well as how to disable the indicator light on your kill switch to make it even more efficient! My other home energy efficiency concern came from years of living through Texas summers with the AC on high, only to hear my mother shriek when the electric bill came in – so I knew energy efficient windows was something I wanted in my home one way or another. Typical to houses built prior to the 2000’s however, my windows were no where near efficient – and one even had a crack potentially letting the nice cool air from the AC unit escape in the summer time! We knew it was just a matter of time before we needed to replace our windows, and until having heard a few quotes we had no idea of the cost! Thankfully, SUNTEX was able to provide a bid that gave us the high-quality, energy-efficient (and easy to clean) windows at a much lower cost than we’d originally found, so owe decided to move forward with them! Here are some options below that you can consider for your window renovation project. Windows

Because windows come in a variety of shapes and sizes, it’s important to think about your dream home as well as your desired budget when considering a new window design. Typically custom windows are more expensive since they require additional labor, materials, and design work – though they can also add curb appeal and higher home value. The following links provide you with a range of products so you’re able to make the best decision for your dream home:

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Product Deep Dive: Smart Sprinklers

Even your gardens can now be smart! Take a look at the Smart Sprinkler system we recommend, here – the Rachio-3: https://rachio.com/rachio-3/Call us with questions today! We’re happy to help guide you through which Smart-home products will make sense for your home, and how they can help you save money on your energy bill.

 

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