IVANPAH • California's governor, the U.S. secretary of the interior and state and regional union officials joined BrightSource Energy Wednesday as it celebrated the groundbreaking of the 370-megawatt Ivanpah solar project.


The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System's groundbreaking also coincides with Fortune 500 power company NRG Energy announcing it would invest $300 million in the project for over three years. The project will also be funded with a $1.37 billion loan from the U.S. Department of Energy.


The project, near the California-Nevada stateline, is expected to power roughly 140,000 homes when it's finished. Bechtel Corporation will oversee the project's construction.


Officials say the solar project will create 1,000 construction jobs for the High Desert and San Bernardino County.


"(Employees) whether union or not will receive union wages, a health plan and a pension," said Bob Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council. "I'm sure the people in San Bernardino County are saying it's about time."


The project is expected to create total construction wages of $250 million, Balgenorth said.


Lonnie Passmore, recording secretary and field representative for Laborers' International Union Local 783, said most of the laborers will be out of Barstow and Victorville. Passmore said he didn't know how many laborers were needed for the project yet, but union workers from Hinkley and Newberry Springs will benefit as well.


"We're talking with Bechtel (Thursday)," he said. "We'll find out what the demand will be as far as labor and manpower."


First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, though he was glad the project's construction had begun, pointed out that even though construction jobs would benefit San Bernardino County, permanent jobs would not.  


But, he said, the company has agreed to help the county pay for fire services in the area. County officials also continue to work with BrightSource officials and government agencies to address California desert tortoise mitigation.


"It's a better deal for San Bernardino County citizens than it was," he said.


During the groundbreaking ceremony, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger applauded BrightSource for helping California to reach its renewable energy goals. The state's goal is to have 33 percent of its power come from alternative energy sources by the year 2020.


"Solar plants like this are making (our goals) become a reality by 2020," he said, adding that when he became governor he wanted to protect the environment and stimulate the economy. "Some people look at the desert and see miles and miles of emptiness. I look at it and see miles and miles of a gold mine."