PREMIER LEAGUE: GW5 STARTING XI

Gameweek 5 is on the horizon and I have just activated my wild card. Offensively, my starting XI is strong with the likes of Eriksen and Mkhitaryan in the midfield and the “triple threat” up front with Kane, Jesus and Firmino. Defensively it’s been a change since the decision was made to start the season with a #5mandefence in a 5-2-3 formation. Through 4 weeks it’s been a good start, now to figure out how this damn captaincy thing works.

There were also some big changes made to the draft squad this week, attempting to capitalize on good underlying statistics and players who were yet to be picked up off the waiver wire or free agency. Mendy, really still available?

TRADITIONAL FPL STARTING XI

With the wild card activated I overhauled my 5 man defense. The big changes were dropping all 3 So’ton and 2 Man United defenders, opting to go with prominent wing backs in order to maximize my attack. My defense is now led my Marcos Alonso, who suddenly anchors the back five. However, it’s been the play of Ben Davies that has seen him rise in price as manager scrabble to bring him into their squads.

Elsewhere in my defense, I was planning on Sead Kolasinac, but with a tough fixture against Chelsea this week, I decided to bring Ben Mendy into my sqaud instead. At £0.5m more, I somewhat limited myself. After the addition of Aaron Cresswell, it was a punt on Liverpool youngster, Trent Alexander-Arnold at £4.5m.  I am hoping to get 2 games out of TAA before I turn for Harry Maguire at £5.0 to replace him. Longer term plans have Kolasinac slotting in.

The midfield and forward line remain unchanged. With Paul Pogba now injured, it’s up to Henrikh Mkhitaryan to run the Red Devil’s offense. Hopefully he can capitalize on a misguided Everton defense that hasn’t looked all that impressive through 4 weeks. Eriksen’s up against Swansea City at Wembley. No concerns with these two. One change that won’t effect my starters, I dropped Jack Colback in favor of Jack Cork, possibly with a £0.1m rise in his future.

Up front, I am very happy to see all this Twitter and pod talk about going big up front, which I have done since GW1. My triple threat features Harry Kane, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus. To think where I would be if I had gone with the majority and started Lukaku in place of Kane, known for his August hoodoo voodoo. Moving forward I think these three starters and don’t have much interest in bringing in Lukaku or Morata at this time.

I have gone with my head this week, not talking myself into Firmino again and have captained Harry Kane this week against Swansea. We will see how this starting XI pay off. I am expecting big returns from the defense. Hopefully the activation of the wild card will pay dividends.

FPL DRAFT STARTING XI

The draft team replace status quo last weekend in the 4th spot, but it was a poor week and needed some freshening up. I put in 6 waiver claims and was rewarded with 6 new players, of which 5 will feature in the starting XI this weekend.

Up front I had seen enough of Wayne Rooney and opted to bring in Christian Benteke. This move on the heels of Palace bringing in Roy Hodgson, hopefully it kick starts their offense. To partner with him up front, I added Joselu of Newcastle. His underlying stats, while probably unsustainable are strong and home to Stoke City could give him prime chance to pick up some good points. Aguero was pulled at the hour mark in their Thursday ECL match, so he could feature away to Watford this weekend. Might be a bit tougher than anticipated, as Marco Silva has the Hornets playing some good defense at home.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that the red card to Sadio Mane last weekend will give Philippe Coutinho his first start of the season. Drafted #2 overall, I have been struggling in the midfield, but now he’s got a chance to shine home to Burnley. He is partnered with Dele Alli home to Swansea this weekend.

Defensively Azpilicueta and Alderweireld are the only starters to retain their positions, yet last week Toby didn’t feature in my starting XI, but reappears for the GW5 match home to Swansea. Charlie Daniels reappears since his first departure after GW2. Bournemouth still not fairing well, but Daniels is attack minded and the Cherries are home to Brighton. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Mendy both make their debut in the starting XI and both have favorable fixtures, home to Burnley and away to Watford respectively. Alexander-Arnold might not be a full time starter and if he doesn’t start I have Pedro lined up to replace him. This would mean I will be looking for another defender, possibly in the direction of Newcastle.

Hopefully these major changes in both fantasy squads pay off this weekend. I like the make up and feel of them, but would much rather all the luck in this word to put together a smashing weekend. Best of luck to all fantasy managers!

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FPL: Midweek Options

On the horizon, as we approach GW3, we see the first international break, followed by the close of the transfer window. The urge to activate our first wild card is high, based on two very inconsistent game weeks. Those managers who knee jerked for GW2 probably weren’t rewarded, as expected and now rank lower in the OR, looking to possibly salvage their season just 3 weeks into this season.

Sitting on 96 points, ranked 2.2m, I am 35 points off from where I was this time last FPL season, still contemplating my starting XI played for GW1, which included just a single Man United player, Antonio Valencia. With their fixtures, I initially planned Lukaku and Pogba but moved both these attacking players and went a different direction. That’s a massive difference of 61 points (assuming I captained Lukaku) pushing my total to 157 (26 point improvement over last season)! Yet decisions I made at this point have cost me.

Now midweek, what direction do we go for GW3? I burned my FT on Monday, knee jerking KDB out in favor of Eriksen, more for the £0.1m increase than paying attention to City’s away fixture to BOU. A wise fantasy manager would have held KDB, let the £0.1m slide, giving the midfielder a final opportunity before offloading the £10.0 price tag.

In defense of that move, I gained £0.1m (TV now £100.2), picking up Eriksen who faces Burnley at home, on he back of 3 assists to start the EPL campaign. Doubling up on Spurs worked to the advantage of many mangers last season, there appears to be similar appeal this term. We can debate who is better all season; Alli or Eriksen?

This same argument can be applied to Man United and their midfield duo of Pogba and Mkhitaryan. Both players are off to a smashing starts, boasting 23 and 21 points respectively. Couple that with the league’s top forward in Lukaku and it’s possible you run with two attacking doubles in your starting XI.

All this and we haven’t even touched on defense, other top teams or the fact we are still missing some big names due to health and fitness reasons; Coutinho (£8.9), Hazard (£10.5) and Sanchez (£11.9). This gives managers another reason to hold the course and not activate the wild card, as all three are impact players to their team, the league and FPL.

With only 2 weeks of game data to extrapolate, it’s difficult to formulate a short term plan. Which budget players will continue their strong starts and which will fade? As a Watford supporter, I am pleased with Marco Silva’s start to the season, behind the play of Richarlison (£6.0/15 pts.) and Doucouré (£5.1/12 pts.). New signee, Jesé started his Stoke City career with a goal and 231,000 managers have transferred him in. Aaron Mooy (£5.6) has made an early impact at Huddersfield, as the Australian bagged an assist and goal, along with 2 CS in the first two. Running a 5-2-3 currently, I have no budget to spare, using £4.5 midfielders.

Defensively, I took a big risk starting a 5-man defense, while it paid off in GW1 bagging 6 clean sheets, GW2 was an entirely different story. Backing a defensive line featuring So’ton’s, Yoshida, Bertrand and Cedric yielded just 7 points, after giving up 2 goals to a 10-man West Ham squad. Man City had good fixtures to start but the expected CS in GW2 ended up a 1-1 draw. Man United has exceeded expectations, scoring 8 goals, conceding zero. Hopefully the CS parade will continue with LEI/sto the next fixtures.

Valencia was my top defensive prospect at United, but hasn’t been played well, an average position in the middle of the pitch. It appears in a 4-man defense, Valencia isn’t getting as far forward, which will limit his attacking returns. Conversely, Marcos Alonso…well GW2 speaks for itself, as be scored a brace! Currently with £1.0m ITB, I could be convinced to downgrade Valencia to Bailly, banking £0.5m ITB and introduce Alonso for Bertrand.

Looking forward through Gameweek 5, I am after a defender who’s posted good form and fixtures against lower teams in the EPL. No surprise, So’ton is on top, but the likes of West Ham, Newcastle, West Brom, Brighton, Huddersfield and Crystal Palace all fit the bill. Based off back-to-back clean sheets, it’s Ahmed Hegazi (£4.7/23 pts.) who could be the budget defender to continue posting premium numbers. Mathias Jorgensen aka Zanka (£4.6/16 pts.) and Christopher Schindler (£4.5/15 pts.) are strong candidates. For Nick and Tom at WGTA, I also include Allan Nyom (£5.0/15 pts.) because of #nyomwatch!

Looking ahead an unknown still lurks on the sidelines. We have not seen Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard of Philippe Coutinho set foot on the pitch. All three players were instrumental in their team’s success in the 2016/17 season. Sanchez and Coutinho have been linked with moves away their club during this transfer window. However it appears both will remain with their respective clubs and feature in the starting XI. Hazard is returning to fitness after injury and will take his place to strengthen the Chelsea midfield. Prices being what they are, this just add 3 more high priced players to the mix to muddy the situation as we head towards the international break.

What options does this leave before the start of GW3? As mentioned earlier, activate the wild card. Personally, my team isn’t bad, I still have confidence in my starting XI, so I don’t want to activate it yet. The newly coined, ‘Free Hit Chip’ would allow me to shift players for GW3, as my team would revert back to a GW2 lineup at the end of the game week. Yet, some question surrounds when best to use this chip. Bye week? DGW? Christmas period? Week with strong clubs playing weaker ones?

Realistically, I am left with two options. First, do nothing. I used my weekly FT and will just run with the starting XI I currently have. Fixtures are good over the entire pitch, which leads me to believe I could post season high score. Second, look at taking a -4 point hit. Even though I still feature 3 So’ton defenders, a home fixture against Huddersfield could work in my favor. One hit option would be to move Cedric or Yoshida in favor of Hegazi. Not quite sold on the big Egyptian and his offensive abilities, but like Foster has bagged two CS to start the season.

As I toil away looking at the impending weekend, there is a high probability I won’t make any further move, including a -4 point hit. I will ride into GW3 high on the potential of what my starting XI could return based on their fixtures. This would allow me a 2-week period to decide how to move forward for the next 3 game weeks, keeping my fingers crossed none of my starting XI pick up a knock to futher complicate the situation.

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Premier League: GW1 Retrospect

In what began as a great game week on Saturday, turned into a bit of a horror show at the conclusion of the Sunday fixtures. Prior to the start of the EPL, like many mangers I spent many hours reading, researching and building my 15-man squad. The culmination of my planning came down to a Friday morning change moving from a 5-3-2 into a 5-2-3. Much of the risk still remained with 5 defenders and a potential lack of attack. With uncertainty surrounding GW1 players and clean sheets being a statistic anomaly, I sat back to watch and enjoy, as the beautiful game had returned.

Unlike the previous 4 season participating in FPL, I felt confident heading into GW1. Over the summer break I remained active in transfers, as well as discussion on players, formations and what we expected to happen in the 2017/18 EPL season. I created countless spreadsheets to help organize my thoughts, build various squads based on formations and put together a transfer plan through GW7. As I said in an earlier post, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” So without further ado, here’s how GW1 played out.

With great anticipation I settled in on Saturday morning in the states to get my fill of football. Unfortunately, NBC Sports has decided to making their Premiership coverage subscription based at $49.99 for a season pass. This means I will be lucky to see two games a day during the EPL season. Really unfortunately to lose the free coverage that we’ve seen since NBC decided to start covering the beautiful game. For me, I refuse to pay NBC for this “extra” coverage. Hopefully they come to their senses for next season, but for some reason I don’t see that happening.

Gameweek 1 began for me approximately 2 hours before ARS v LEI took to the pitch. What was known before kickoff, I was starting with 5 defenders. What I didn’t know, which Chelsea midfielder to start? Willian or Fabregas? Both were v7.0 and starting with the absence of Hazard in the starting Chelsea XI. The opening fixtures for Chelsea didn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling; BUR/tot/EVE/lei/ARS in the first 5 weeks. Along with the search for a midfielder, I had Alonso inserted (£7.0) as the anchor in my 5 at the back defense.

What could be viewed as a hasty, irrational move I transferred Lukaku out in favor of Jesus and Firmino. I had reaffirmed just days before that players above 30% TSB should be owned and considered template players. At the time I moved “Big Rom” his ownership was over 48%! The FFS Scoutcast provided a bit of doubt, the fact that Man United could go up 1-0 against WHM and set up shop defensively at home. Combine that with Jesus, who was phenomenal for City last year, could potentially put up 20+ goals this season, but at £1.0 less than Lukaku. While I didn’t really consider the 5-2-3, but had played around with it, I decided to finalize my team.

Along with shipping out Lukaku, I also said goodbye to Alonso. The front line of Jesus, Kane and Firmino looked great on paper. Defensively, I brought in my third So’ton defender, Cédric. I was living large and backing the Saints to provide a CS against Swansea. City away for new boys Brighton I tripled up though my starting XI. Yet, concern and doubt continued to creep into my head, was this the right move to make, away from Lukaku?

Saturday I could not have asked for a better showing from my defense. Starting Yoshida, Bertrand and Cédric with Kompany and Valencia at £28.0m. Between the pipes, I held steady with Foster as WBA took on the offensive minded Cherries. Planning paid off as I finished Saturday with 5 clean sheets and 3 bonus points (1 from Foster, 2 from Bertrand). Sunday took a minor hit as Jose playing 4 at the back and Valencia, fielded as a RB didn’t get many looks inside the box, but did feature down the right side. He also picked up a yellow card, but still finished the day on 5 points. So defensively I was perfect, 36 points!

Unfortunately problems were mounting as an uneasiness settled upon me. Firmino played outstanding for Liverpool rewarding managers with 12 points, on a goal/assist and 3 bonus points. It appears Firmino will also be on penalties without Milner featuring, scoring his first against Watford. Firmino was a solid addition with the Lukaku move and provided me a sense of reassurance.

The City pairing of KDB and Jesus, failed to really impress, while each got off 4 shots on target, neither returned points. KDB picked up 1 point for the CS against Brighton, but it was Kun Agüero with a goal. Hoenstly, I thought City would roll up 4 or 5 goals, but they saved it late for a 2-0 victory. Zaha and Palace were shell shocked by Huddersfield 3-0, as Palace didn’t get anything going and Zaha didn’t return, while picking up a knee injury that has him questionable for GW2 away to Liverpool.

Saturday saw my finished on 51 points, well on my way to the 60 point average I wanted over the course of the season. This set me up for the Sunday fixtures with Valencia and Kane to showcase my 5-2-3 and add to my total. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the fact that Kane remains goalless in August in the EPL, but the decision to include him to start the season was partially based on how strongly he finished last season. Spurs looked sharp, Kane had chances in the box; saved, post, offside denied him of three excellent chances. I also gave Kane the armband, so his 1 point doubled.

I spoke about the Captain’s Armband back in March and how I was “sorely disappointed” and “in 13 out of 27 weeks (48.1%) I owned and started the player who was recommend in website captain polls.” To start this season, the armband was on Lukaku before I transferred him, handing the captaincy to Kane, who was listed in many polls as the second choice option. If I would have held steady and not moved Lukaku I would have finished 25 point higher (Lukaku 26, Alonso 0, Fabregas -1).

While I was hoping to hold my GW2 transfer, the injury to Zaha might force my hand. With £1.5m ITB, I have options to replace Zaha, if indications are he’s not going to start against Liverpool. However I continue to keep an eye on Lukaku. That transfer finger is getting itchy and current TSB% of 50.5% is continuing to climb with swa/LEI/sto in the next 3 games. Yet I feel I can justify Jesus for £1.0m less with strong fixtures through GW10, that do include LIV/che in GW4 and GW7 respectively, teams that gave up 3 goals a piece in GW1. Could Kane take a one week pass in favor of Lukaku agsinst SWA?

Overall it was a terrible weekend on just 50 points, I am sitting at 1.9m in the overall standings and the 15 leagues I am in aren’t even worth talking about at this point. It will be a week filled with discussion and decisions before the start of GW2. With that sole FT burning a hole in my pocket the injury to Zaha could force a move. FPL is back!

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Quest For 100

On October 31, 2016 I celebrated my 5th anniversary of living plant based. It’s been an amazing journey, which has featured extreme highs and success, but more recently had featured lows, dominating my life. While I haven’t been 100% PD (Protective Diet) compliant, I still follow the basic principles laid out by Dr. John McDougall; no meat, no dairy and no added oil. This was the basis ofgoing plant based I followed when I made the decision to change my lifestyle after reading his book.. The benefits for me have been nothing short of incredible. Yet what works for me, might not benefit others the same.

The last 12-18 months I found my plant based lifestyle trending the wrong way. It was a cheat day here, 5 pounds there, another few pounds there but didn’t worry much about it. Then it became, “damn, why are my pants so tight?” only to realize I have returned to being a vegan junkie, forgetting the basics of plant based, whole foods, while favoring processed or fast food (no meat and dairy) as a quick fix to my hunger. Looking in the mirror I can see where that has lead me.

Now at 200 pounds, I have gained by near 20 pounds over the last 2 years or so. I realized that 175 pounds was nice, it was just not possible to maintain. It was 180-185 pounds that seemed ideal. Running and lifting weights played into a slim and more muscular me, but little by little the running and weights fell by the wayside. The results, again can be seen in the mirror.

Thankfully there are many inspiration people around me, some I work with others I know from running. Through discussion with them, I realize if I continue to do nothing, my health and lack of activity will continue to suffer. With the help of two co-workers I have decided to get that positive mindset and work towards a goal.

Goals, since starting this lifestyle have helped me benefit, achieving small victories along the way before crossing the finish line. Yet, this lifestyle isn’t a race, there is no finish line, as I continue to learn every day, thanks to wonderful people like Julie Marie and Jerry Christensen, who promote a healthy, active “protective” lifestyle. I’ve also got a co-worker, Aaron, who just underwent surgery, but is back running, exercising and improving his health. He’s got bold plans to run every race that Brazen Racing offers (15 in all), in order to labelled a “Brazen Streaker” and be guaranteed his personal number for every race.

Down south in Merced, I met Ofie at the Razorback Endurance Race a few years back and we have became friends, seeing other from time to time at different races, but this woman is amazingly fit. From rock climbing and cycling to running and paddle boarding, there isn’t an activity she doesn’t do! Finally my American River running partner, Brian, while we have only run those two races together, without him and his support I don’t believe I could have finished. Always a positive outlook on life and during our races, he has spurred me to our latest challenge, which will be termed “crazy” by many.

Just 3 years ago, April 19, 2015 I ran my first ultra marathon on Mt. Diablo. It was also the first time I experienced a “runner’s high” that left me with the desire to run even longer distances. While I was sore and left barely able to walk, I was yearning for something more. The following two years I participated in the American River 50 Mile Endurance Race from Folsom to Auburn, finishing 13:52 the first year and improving my time by :12 minutes the following year. This year, due to my schedule, the unavailability of my running partner and a lack of drive (but not desire) I missed the AR50. We also missed the Razorback Endurance Race, which took place last weekend but we look forward to our goal.

Next year, nearly 48 weeks away I will run my first 100 mile race. Now 48 weeks seems to be a long time, one in which you could easily say, “I’ll start next week” only to find out you are less than a few months away from race day and you have yet to train. That won’t happen this time around. Once the sign up rolls around, I will commit, in order to have that goal on paper.

While I don’t have a full training schedule built, the first 12 weeks will set the tone for the rest of the training. During this time I will build a proper base on which to run, the goal, getting up to 90 minutes of running as soon as possible. The running schedule will have me running 4 times a week for the first 12 weeks. Just like when I started running it will be short, :30 minute runs as I build up to :90 minutes before moving on to a longer duration or distance. Even now I know I could run a 3-6 miles with no problems, but don’t want to do too much, too soon and cause an injury or other setback.

As with all activity, fuel becomes very important. While I already follow a plant based lifestyle, it will be a Protective Diet, where I feed my hunger. Julie has an amazing array or foods, which taste good and are simple to create. Last night, I got started a day early by making Shanghai Cucumbers and Spicy Asian Noodle Salad. Clean, simple and full of flavor! No more grabbing food while at work or when on the run at a fast food restaurant. Some advanced planning and constant set up will help me achieve my goals.

In conjunction with the running and eating, I am plan on getting back into the Stronglifts 5×5 program to build lean music and lose fat. I found this by mistake a few years back, but the results were proven, lifting weight I never thought possible! The feeling of strength is unparalleled!

I have also starting IF or intermittent fasting using James Clears’ beginner’s guide. This is not the first time I have experimented with IF, learning about it back in April, 2013 (Read IF). Basically you have a “feeding window” of 8 hours, in which you consume all your calories. The next 16 hours you go without food. My feeding windows is between 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM. I know this goes against what a Protective Diet teaches, but I have found the results to be beneficial in my training, especially when it comes to the running. “Interesting enough I could feel a big difference when I ran 4 miles. It felt better to run on an “empty” stomach rather than one that had food in from lunch or breakfast” (Read IF-fy).

While the race director hasn’t set a 2018 date for the Razorback Endurance Race, it appears it will take place the end of May, as some runners voiced concerned about a potential conflict with the AR50. As soon as a tentative date is set, I will be able to update my training plan.

Approximately 24 weeks into training, I am planning on picking a 50k or 50 mile race to see where I stand before starting the 100 mile training. Thankfully I have an awesome trainer, Michael, who acted as my AR50 pacer last year, who pushed me over the finish line in record time. He has been contacted to provide input and feedback to my training plan. Currently, he’s in the midst of his own, personal training as he looks forward to the Tahoe 100 on July 14. He is a valuable resource of information and strategy as I look ahead to what the future holds.

It’s all in the mindset. Having already achieved some amazing feats, I am excited at the prospects and what the future holds. No more excuses! It’s time to test the limits and see just how far I can push my body. Running 100 miles will be unlike any else I have ever attempted. With a positive attitude, strong conviction and support of others, nothing will prevent me from crossing that finish line.

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Sucking or Conserving

Appreciate those friends and co-workers who can relate to the increase in PG&E prices over the course of the last few months. Last week I wrote, PG&E Thieves: Energy Costs, showcasing my struggles over the last few months with my PG&E bill. I just can’t justify the numbers in my mind. I am guilty of running the gas fireplace during December and January, but I don’t knock it off to “combat the cold, damp weather this winter” as PG&E spokesman, Donald Cutler says in a SF Chronicle article. Instead of heating unnecessary rooms downstairs I made the assumption it would be more cost efficient to heat the living room and kitchen with the fireplace. Unfortunately that decision cost me $67.51 in December and $78.52 in January. Prior to those two month, the gas portion of my bill averaged less than $10/month.

The numbers aren’t justified, as I have been a tight ass when it comes to our electricity consumption over the 7 days and the results haven’t equated to the sort of savings I expected. January and February were the highest energy use months since August, 2016. The 1265 kWh in August was attributed to the air conditioning running on a regular basis. I accept those totals, although still very hard to swallow. The first two months of the year were 1255 kWh and 1228 kWh, which were both an increase of nearly 25% over December and 41% over November!

The aver kWh per day averaged 41.8 kWh from January 13 to February 13. Over the past 7 days we have used 242 kWh or an average of 26.8 kWh/day. A sharp decrease when compared to the last billing cycle. As it stands right now, our energy allowance is 358 kWh/month, which leaves 116 kWh before we see the Tier 1 price increase to Tier 2 and we pay $0.24/kWh, an increase of $0.6/kWh.

“Cutler encouraged customers to go online to take advantage of the tools the utility provider offers to help customers better understand and manage their electricity and gas usage.” Let me say, I have been to the web site more in the last week than in the last 14 years I have lived in NoCal. I have used some of their tools, but many are “common sense” items to help save a certain dollar amount over the course of the year. It’s quite possible I have “vampire devices” sucking the life out of my electric bill. I invested in a Kill-A-Watt Meter to help provide estimates for electrical items around the house.

One item I can do without, the 1100 watt microwave. What an evil device, not only for electricity but potential health issues. As I have been monitoring my meter each day, I took a picture of my hourly usage at 2.953, while the microwave was on! I turned it off and the meter read a more reasonable 1.505 kWh. It comes as no surprise the microwave increases the daily bill. Thankfully it’s only used in short spurts.

I am still chasing down unknown spikes in the bill from last Friday and Saturday, between 10:00PM and 10:50PM and 1100PM and 1159PM on successive days. What caused these spikes, I still don’t know. My best bet is a pump of some sort clicking on the freezer in the garage or the refrigerator. Without connecting an energy monitor up to the electrical panel, I probably will never know the root cause of these spikes. A Sense Labs, Inc energy meter is on my list to add to the home in order to decrease usage even further. Not sure if that’s even possible but will continue to make the effort.

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