When John Reichert, a Texas Tech professor of engineering, says that what has happened in Crosbyton, Texas, these past seven years has given everyone involved ''a powerful lesson in civics, in how the nation works and sometimes how it doesn't work,'' he is making perhaps one of the great understatements of the year.
For what is not quite yet working in little Crosbyton, but may be very close to working, is the world's first commercial electricity system produced from solar-generated steam. The US Department of Energy has already invested $6 million in the town's demonstration solar power plant, which does indeed work just fine. The town has invested $100,000, plus some 100 acres of cotton fields. Unfortunately, completing the project - which means building ten 200-foot solar bowls - would require another $35 million.
With the fiscal 1982 US solar-thermal budget now at $55 million, and the 1983 budget pegged at only $18 million, federal officials see no funds for Crosbyton. In other words, here are the feds, abandoning a project after seven years of work and substantial investments of public monies. So close yet so far.
Somehow, such a cavalier approach sounds rather penny-wise and pound-foolish. Surely, there must be some way for the federal government to follow through on its commitments, particularly on a project with such potential. According to Professor Reichert: ''The dream was to show the nation a way to save fuel.'' Sounds like a dream that should be turned to reality for all Americans.