TAYLOR, Texas (KXAN) - Saturday night, people from all over the eastern part of Williamson County will head into Taylor for a night of "Movies in the Park."
"We're going to have a projector and a Blue Ray," said John Jarmon, a mentor at Taylor High School . "We have a 415-watt amplifier. We have some old speakers. I bought these speakers back when I was in the navy in the 70s. We haven't used them in 20 years, but we tested them the other day and they sound fabulous."
What makes this night's event at Robinson Park really special, though, is that the power behind all that stuff will not come from an extension cord plugged into an outlet.
Instead, though it will be dark at that time, the electric power used to run the projection system will come from an unusual source: the sun.
"This is the future of energy," said Taylor High School student Jacob Bishop, 16. "One day, everyone's house will have solar panels on the rooftops. I just believe that's going to happen because these fossil fuels aren't going to work forever."
Jacob is a member of a THS club called, B.L.A.D.E. That stands for Beginners Learning Alternative Designs for Energy. The club was Jordan's brainchild. The mentor works at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, also known as ERCOT.
The company coordinates electric power throughout the state, monitoring demand and guarding against outages. It also encourages its employees to give back to their communities.
So Jarmon decided to launch a renewable energy club at the high school.
"I started the club using a textbook," he said, "thinking that I will be able to connect with these high school students, breaking out a textbook after school and teaching some fundamentals. But I quickly learned that wasn't going to work too well."
That was a fairly safe assumption, since the second trip Jarmon made to the school resulted in a club meeting with no students showing up.
So, Jarmon decided to make the enterprise a hands-on affair. Club members started working on solar panels, soldering together the thin wafers that make them up.
Jacob Bishop was among the first to pick up a soldering iron. It didn't go well.
"When it came to soldering the wafers," Jarmon recalled, "he immediately just stood back and said, 'I'm not too good at that."
"I was really slow," Jacob admitted. "I was pretty inaccurate. I'm not going to lie; I broke a bunch of them."
But Jarmon kept up a steady stream of encouragement and Jacob kept trying.
"Now that's just about my favorite part of it," the boy said. "I think it's the delicate work involved, the concentration you need."
"That's what this is about," suggested Jordan, "introducing the kids to something, working with them, encouraging them. It's really been a lot of fun."
So, over the past school year, the club members spent after-school hours patiently building their four solar panels. But what to do with them?
Jarmon had an idea for that, too. You see, he had an old van with 220,000 miles on it. It was unreliable and it was costing him a fortune to drive. So he donated it to the club.
All over Taylor, citizens and businesses joined the effort, donating everything from a new paint job to a widescreen TV and a Blue Ray player.
The students installed the panels on the roof of the vehicle and connected them to a series of six 12-volt batteries inside. The batteries collect and store the power produced by the solar system, making that night time movie in the park thing possible.
The system also accommodates video games and they, too, will be available for the public to try out Saturday night. Everyone involved is looking forward to the event.
"All they've been doing so far is just work," Jarmon said. "They haven't experienced the fun and enjoyment part yet. It's just been work for them. We're at a point now where they're going to have some fun."
And yet, the coolest thing about it all has already happened. Last Saturday and Sunday, the Taylor students took their van to the Austin Convention Center for a solar power competition sponsored by IEEE , the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
B.L.A.D.E. took first place.
"Right before they were about to announce it, I had a nose bleed," said club member Sean Bullock, 16, "so I was in the bathroom. That (the award) was very exciting for me and I didn't know if I was going to have another nose bleed from all the excitement."
All this also has the students thinking hard about their own future.
"It's made me think more about what I'm going to do in college," Jacob said. "I've got to look into this stuff; it might be a future career choice."
"I mean, if some high school students can do it," Sean added, "I think that shows people that it is good and that it works. It's simple enough that anybody can do it.
"I think that the solar systems could possibly save the polar bears, as they say."
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