Commissioners concerned about Welcome to Las Vegas solar 'trees'

The lights of a famous landmark — the Welcome to Las Vegas sign — could be juiced with solar power.

First, Clark County commissioners want to make sure the solar panels fastened atop three 25-foot-tall artificial trees that are envisioned don’t ruin the view of the famous sign or put a damper on the enthusiasm of millions of tourists who snap photos there.

The diamond-shaped welcome sign was designed in 1959 by Betty Willis and went on to become a symbol for Las Vegas as the city turned into a resort destination.

The proposed solar project, which wouldn’t cost the county anything, would showcase the region’s potential for solar energy. The Clean Energy Project and Green Chips, two local nonprofit groups focused on renewable energy, want to power the sign with solar energy with a private grant received from the Consumer Electronics Association, a Virginia-based organization focused on consumer technology.

The three faux trees would be painted blue to match the posts of the welcome sign, said Matt Van Note, a project developer with Bombard Renewable Energy, the Las Vegas contractor that would build the project.

Each tree would have 12 solar panels. The initial locations eyed for the artificial trees are on the median just north of the sign, Van Note said.

That location didn’t sit well with some commissioners, who worry that the solar panels could mess up the northward view at the sign, which is on Las Vegas Boulevard at the southern edge of the Strip.

“The concern I have is the view line because that is our brand,” said Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, stressing she values solar energy’s potential.

“It just seems to me when people are going up to take their picture in front of the Las Vegas sign, I don’t think they want solar trees in the line of view looking to the Strip. I just have a huge concern with that.”

The sign is in her district and the district of Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak. Sisolak also expressed concerns about the aesthetics and safety because the county doesn’t want people walking on the north median.

“I can’t support having those trees — whatever you’re calling them — in the line of the pictures,” he said.

“I don’t think people want solar panels in the pictures.”

That doesn’t mean the solar project is out of power. County staff members will work with the organization and plan to bring back options for the commissioners that address those concerns.

Van Note also stressed that the location for the artificial trees is flexible.

Other commissioners were more upbeat about the project.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani noted the irony of the presentation, given Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s visits to solar plants in the Las Vegas area Monday. Giunchigliani said the project has good potential as an educational tool.

Commissioner Tom Collins, saying he is supportive of the effort, suggested one way to beautify the project.

“Maybe put Elvis pictures under it,” he said.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.