Kentucky Power is focused on economic development.
Matthew J. Satterwhite, president and chief operating officer of the utility, said the company is committed to doing what it takes to create new jobs in eastern Kentucky. He said in a recent interview with The Daily Independent the utility has witnessed a drop in its customer base from roughly 175,000 to 168,000 as the economy suffered setbacks.
The cure for that slippage, he said, is job growth.
“Before I accepted the job I really studied what has to happen," said Satterwhite, who was named president of Kentucky Power in December. "I realize I am the president of the company, but I have to spend almost all of my time on economic development. It really is where we need to start. There has to be a change.”
Satterwhite said aluminum producing Braidy Industries is an anchor of future economic development. He also sees the aerospace industry as a huge opportunity for eastern Kentucky. The utility — which is pursuing an approximate 11 percent rate increase this December — is looking at ways to help the coal industry.
"We are not really going to make money on Braidy at the end of the day, but the way I think it is going to work out is there are going to be a lot of jobs in this community,” Satterwhite said. "That is where we have to start and that is what we have to do in all of our communities.”
Satterwhite said the Braidy plant scheduled for East Park sets the stage for a huge economic boost and can parlay the region into aerospace industry growth.
"Braidy is the start because industries that come here are going to need the aluminum to come out of Braidy,” Satterwhite said. “They are talking about 30 supply companies being within 45 minutes of Braidy … we need to rebuild the whole region and have everything clustered. That's what I work on every day.”
The economic development growth strategy of eastern Kentucky, Satterwhite said, needs “to take chances, because it is about bringing jobs back.”
"We’ve really dedicated ourselves to the aerospace play,” Satterwhite said. “We went over to Paris with the governor and Craig Bouchard, head of Braidy, and we took a state delegation to talk to a number of CEOs from the aerospace industry. People don’t know Kentucky is #2 in the country in aerospace exports only behind Washington because Boeing is there.”
Satterwhite said eastern Kentucky and the region has an incredibly skilled workforce including lots of workers skilled in steel and metal fabrication — an important cornerstone for growth.
“We have 10,000 available workers, highly-skilled workers,” he said. "We documented it so we can show everyone. Everyone says they have it, but they don’t really have it. We really have it and the documentation to show we have it. These CEOs were saying we really need to look at eastern Kentucky."
Satterwhite is an attorney with expertise in the regulatory world that utilities have to navigate through. He oversees customers in eastern Kentucky, the company’s power grid, and some 700 employees. He said safety is the #1 most important goal of the company.
The company’s power sources include the Mitchell Plant, the Big Sandy Plant, and there is also an agreement with the Rockport Plant in Indiana.
"We are still 80 percent coal,” Satterwhite said. "A lot of people don’t realize that because the visible one is right here in our backyard (near) Louisa, we converted that. We converted it at a savings of about $500 million to our customers.”
Kentucky Power’s rate case is filed with the commission. It involves about a six-month process with a hearing likely in December.
“It is really a symptom of what is faced all over eastern Kentucky — people have moved out,” Satterwhite said. "There are neighbors and friends who have moved out. Over half the case is just the loss of load which means there are less of us to cover the fixed costs.”
Satterwhite said Kentucky Power is working with coal companies and the coal association to find ways to increase usage of local coal.
“We have a responsibility to make sure the economy is going stronger,” Satterwhite said. “That's why I’ve really dedicated myself to economic development."