Routt County Some local folks are finding a way to avoid those high energy bills. They're loading up on black lumps of carbon dug out of the middle of rural Routt County.
On a recent Saturday morning, Wayne Sweetser and his son were tossing those chunks of coal into the back of his truck.
"We've done it for 22 years and this is a luxury to be able to buy it locally," Sweetser said to a coal company manager standing nearby. "It's a privilege to be able to come and get it."
Twentymile Coal Co. is the only place left in Routt County that allows the public to buy coal. Employees getthe coal for free.
The company sits in a little valleyat a point between Hayden, Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek off of County Road 27. Deer graze on the property just yards away from employees and huge machines used to haul coal.
Every Saturday morning, people drive up to a large scale in their pickup trucks and weigh in before heading to one of several large piles of coal set up by the company. If someone wants the smaller stoker coal, the company uses a loader to dump it into trucks.
"We want to be a good neighbor to people in the area," said Ron Spangler, human resources manager at Twentymile.
"They've been good to us. We want to do what's right."
After the pickups are loaded up, the vehicles are weighed again to determine how much coal has been picked up. A ton of coal costs $45 for non-employees; senior citizens get it for $30.
Tom Martindale of Yampa has propane heat, but chooses to use his lump-coal stove.
"I try to stay away from the propane as much as I can because it's so expensive," he said.
Natural gas isn't cost effective in south Routt County either. A 1997 study by Pipeline Sources Inc. showed it would take about $4 million to install lines in the rural area.
Martindale prefers coal over propane because at $1.71 to $1.80 per gallon for propane, even a small home could use up to $200 worth of the fuel a month.
Martindale only has to spend $90 on coal this year to heat his home with a stove.
Coal-burning stoves aren't as efficient as furnace-based heating systems, but the metal boxes can put out good heat.
Tom Anderson, owner of Hot Stuff Energy Alternative in Steamboat Springs, said heat radiates off the metal stoves and it can be regulated by adjusting an air inlet.
"The more air you let in, the faster it burns, the hotter it burns,"Anderson said.
But the most inefficient, and dirtiest way people are still burning coal is in old-fashioned masonry fireplaces, according to the Rout County Environmental Health Department.
Nonetheless,people like Wayne Sweetser, who lives two miles outside of Hayden, said he can't justify changing to a propane system.
"It would run about $12,000 to do it the right way," said Sweetser, who burns coal and wood in the fireplace to keep his living and kitchen areas warm.
Sweetser said his home also has electric heating, but that costs too much as well.
"A five-gallon bucket (of coal) burns all night," Sweetser said.
Right now, Sweetser uses wood and buys four and a half tons of coal for about $200 to help heat his home.
Providing coal to locals certainly isn't a money maker for Twentymile, Spangler said. Most of Twentymile's coal actually goes to the Hayden Power Plant.
It was difficult for Twentymile's Spangler not to gloat when asked about California's energy troubles and its lack of power plants.
"It's come back to impact them," Spangler said. "It's unfortunate because with technology today, you can burn coal clean and it's a much less costly source of energy."
In fact, Spangler admitted that when possible, homeowners should switch to natural gas to heat their homes, but he insisted that using coal to generate electricity is "the most efficient use."
"I would think this (energy) crisis will make the nation look at coal for a viable source of energy," Spangler said.