Crosbyton: ideal town for solar experiments

Crosbyton's initial interest in solar power came in 1974. And it seemed a completely logical step for this Texas Panhandle cotton-and-cow town.

Well before other Americans took the energy crisis seriously, this farming community was debating the problem and possible solutions in its regular town meetings. Shortages hit here immediately because two major farming needs are natural gas for irrigation wells and diesel fuel for farm equipment. When these costs soared, the town voted to try sun power.

Sitting at the center of one of the world's major cotton-growing regions, Crosbyton knows the value of long days of hot sun. Cashing in on that value in 1973, the town built the world's largest cotton gin to process its cotton more efficiently. And in 1974, Crosbyton asked Texas Tech University to design a solar power plant.

John D. Reichert, a theoretical physicist teaching electrical engineering, designed the plant. Then he and the town built it together.

''Crosbyton was ideal,'' says Reichert, ''because it wasn't ideal.'' Instead of building the first demonstration plant in an area with unlimited sunshine and no problems, the plant went up where the sun can disappear for days at a time and where hail, tornadoes, and heavy dust from the cotton fields all present major challenges.

Proving the plant works in Crosbyton, says Reichert, proves it can work for many other non-ideal places around the world. ''We never asked for or deserved federal charity for this project,'' he adds. ''The dream was to show the nation a way to save fuel.''

City secretary Norton Barrett has shared that dream for eight years. ''If there is another energy shortage, and there will be,'' Mr. Barrett says, ''this will be one of the ways to save fuel. This is one concept that ought to be completed.''

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