NB Power is trying to reassure its consumers that stable electricity rates are still possible, even though the utility is almost $5 billion in debt.

With the long-delayed Lepreau Nuclear Plant back online Friday, NB Power is now shifting its focus toward paying off its large debt.

The top people at the utility told a business audience Monday that debt reduction will not be on the backs of consumers.

The utility plans to implement new conservation measures and will try not to use expensive oil-burning generators.

“Nobody can predict oil prices ten years down the road, which makes Lepreau so valuable to us, because we’re using a lower proportion of cost for fuel and that is predictable from our cost point of view,” says NB Power President Gaetan Thomas.

With Point Lepreau back in service, NB Power also hopes to generate revenue by exporting electricity.

For consumers, the forecast is for average rate increases of two per cent each year over the next decade.

The plan received support today, even from some of the utility’s harshest critics.

“They have some plans in place and I’m actually quite encouraged, quite frankly, with what I heard today and some of their plans for the future,” says Gordon Dalzell of the Saint John Citizens Coalition for Clean Air.

However, some caution that cost cutting must not reduce reliability.

“It will be very important that we continue to make investments in the system and we continue to maintain it in a way that it will be reliable,” says Ross Galbraith of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The utility plans to pay off $1 billion of its debt over the next ten years.