DRAX Power Station expects to convert its first generating unit to biomass by April following a "pivotal" year.

Clarity from the Government last year on its support for biomass meant Drax has been able to push ahead with £700 million investment plans to convert the plant to burn biomass, such as willow and straw, instead of coal.

Half the money is being spent on its Drax plant near Selby, the business said in its preliminary results for the year ended December 31, while the other half is being invested in international projects to secure the supply chain.

The business will also develop two pellet plants in Mississippi and Louisiana, in the United States, which between them will generate up to 900,000 tonnes of biomass a year, and it will invest in a port in Louisiana to enable it to export up to three million tonnes a year to support its needs. The company is also expected to invest in UK ports.

At home, it has built storage and delivery systems for biomass, including the first two biomass storage domes, a new rail freight fleet and facility to receive the biomass transported by train.

It plans to convert its first unit to burn only biomass in April, having secured supplies of biomass from a number of supplies in North America, followed by a second unit in April 2014. It hopes to bring forward a third unit, planned for conversion in 2016/7 to be converted in 2015 dependent on securing further supply of biomass.

Peter Emery, production director, said the business currently had 1,500 contractors, managed by local construction business Shepherd Group, working on the Drax site.

"This is good news for Drax's future and good news for local jobs," he said. "This is a massive project and if we're successful, Drax could be predominantly renewable inside three to four years."

Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax, said: “Last year was pivotal for Drax. After ten years developing significant knowledge and experience in all aspects of using sustainable biomass in place of coal at our power station, we now have the mandate, means and expertise to transform the business into a predominantly biomass-fuelled generator.

“This transformation will also provide reliable, cost effective renewable power for consumers and secure a significant number of jobs both at Drax and throughout our supply chain.”

Drax is also part of a consortium which been shortlisted in the Government competition to pilot carbon capture and storage technology, whereby carbon dioxide is pumped underground. It expects to find out if it a preferred bidder by the end of March.