If the smell of roasted nuts seems to be in the air near the San Juan County Courthouse, it might not be your imagination.
After 103 years of burning coal to heat the San Juan County Courthouse, county officials are trying something new.
Pellets made in the Dove Creek area from compressed sunflower shells are being mixed with the coal in a test that furnace tender John Schertz said could be expanded to other buildings in town that still use coal, including Town Hall and old Miners Union Hospital.
County administrator Willy Tookey said the sunflower-shell pellets tend to burn faster than the coal, so the mix is adjusted according to weather pattern and the time of day.
At night, the furnace’s hopper is loaded with the slower burning coal, but in the daytime, more sunflower pellets are added.
Tookey said results look promising so far, “but if they could make bigger pellets they’d burn longer.”
The county currently pays $150 a ton to have coal delivered, but San Juan Biomass of Durango agreed to price its pellets based on BTUs and the additional labor of filling the furnace hoppers an additional time during the day.
That works out to a price of $79.92 a ton, delivered.
The courthouse burns about a half ton of coal per day. About four-fifths of a ton of the pellets would be required for the equivalent BTUs.