UK electricity producer Drax Group has reported an increase in pre-tax profits to GBP317 million for the first half of the year as it benefited from increased prices and a lack of exposure to the volatile wholesale gas market.

Drax, which operates Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant, said that pre-tax profits improved by GBP13 million compared to H1 2005. EBITDA increased to GBP239 million from GBP72 million in the previously year.

The driving factors behind the strong performance were the stability of prices in the coal market – a significant contrast to those plants dependant on gas for fuel – and a 50% increase in the price for its output. The average price per megawatt hour Drax received for its power increased from GBP30.10 last year to GBP45.70 in H1 2006.

The impressive announcement, which has prompted the energy firm to issue a special 80 pence dividend to shareholders, has come just weeks after environmentalist protestors picketed the company’s Drax facility demanding that it was shut down. The Selby, North Yorkshire plant is the UK’s single largest industrial emitter of CO2.