Drax Group Plc, which owns Europe's largest coal fired power station, said on Tuesday its first half earnings had more than tripled after wholesale electricity prices continued to soar.

The firm capable of supplying around 7 percent of the country's power needs from its giant, 3,960 megawatt plant also said that it would pay a special dividend of 80p a share, in addition to a planned ordinary dividend of 4p.

Drax had previously said it would hand back between 75p and 80p to investors.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) rose to 239 million pounds in the six months to June 30 from 72 million previously, the North Yorkshire, England based company said in a statement.

The average forecast of four analysts polled by Reuters last week had put EBITDA at 245 million pounds.

Profit before tax for the half year jumped to 317 million pounds from just 13 million pounds previously, it said, after making an average 45.7 pounds per megawatt hour for the electricity it sold, 52 percent more than for the same period the year before.

The company, which was left broke in 2002 after wholesale electricity prices crashed before it went through a financial revamp last year, entered the FTSE 100 share index of top blue chip companies in June.

Drax is raking in cash because unlike many other energy utilities, it does not need to buy costly gas to make its power.

High gas prices have meant that gas fired generation continued to be the principal price setting plant in the UK power market and had a strong upward influence on the power price, it said.

Drax said that as at September 5, it had contracted power sales of 93 percent, 65 percent, and 52 percent of expected output for 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively.

It said the power was sold at average prices between 48.1 pounds per megawatt hour and 50.1 pounds per megawatt hour.

Performance in the first half of the year has been strong and Drax continues to trade in line with expectations, the company said.