July 29, 2020 / 7:11 AM / 12 days ago

Britain's Drax posts first half pre-tax loss after coronavirus hit

LONDON (Reuters) - British power generator Drax (DRX.L) on Wednesday reported a 61 million pound loss before tax for the first half of 2020, after taking a 44 million pound hit due to the coronavirus.

Drax said the coronavirus-related loss came mainly from its customer business, which sells power, gas and energy services to small to medium-sized (SME) companies.

The company, which has the capacity to provide electricity to around 13 million homes, saw stronger generation from its biomass plants, up 16% compared with the first half of 2019 to 7.4 terawatt hours.

Drax has converted four of its six former coal-fired units in the past decade to use biomass wood pellets.

The remaining coal plants are set to close by the end of March 2021, ahead of a government deadline of 2024, but will remain able to fire up to provide back-up power, until September 2022, the company has said.

The closures are expected to lead to a 25-35 million exceptional item in the second half of the year, Drax said.

First half adjusted EBITDA rose 30% to 179 million pounds, helped by higher power generation and a reduction in costs for its biomass supply.

The company said it would pay an interim dividend of 6.8 pence per share and expects a full year dividend of 17.1 pence, up 7.5% compared with 2019.

“We have increased our dividend while also helping to keep the lights on,” Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said in a call with journalists.

Reporting by Susanna Twidale; Editing by Gareth Jones

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