Power plan: Gen Cannibal (pic: Terry Murden)
Interview: Gen Cannibal, environmental entrepreneur
Intelligence, according to the bespectacled man sitting opposite me, is innate while passing exams is a result of training. It explains, perhaps, why the boy who grew up on a Lancashire council estate and played in a punk rock band dropped out of college despite having an IQ of 165, putting him well into the top 2.5% who score above 130.
“I guess that makes me really weird,” says Gen Cannibal, though the unusual name might also suggest something a bit out of the ordinary.
“I spent some time living in a squat in Leeds and we all changed our names to Cannibal by deed poll,” he says, explaining his journey from rebellious youth to heading up a renewable power plant project in north east Scotland.
His fellow squatters eventually reverted to their birth names. But the arrival of a daughter persuaded him to return to “normal’ life and to college to finish his studies, by which time his certificates and other personal documentation bore the new name. So he stuck with it. Baby Cannibal is now a senior lawyer with a big City legal practice, while his new family expanded with the adoption of a refugee from Sudan.
His background did not suggest he might one day become an entrepreneur apart from the fact that his father left a job working on the Polaris submarines in Barrow-in-Furness to open a fish and chip shop in Blackpool. He wasn’t a great success and they ended up in municipal housing from where the son won a scholarship to a public school.
Having eventually completed his degree at what was Oxford Polytechnic, now known as Oxford Brookes University, he went on to study for a PhD in complex systems theory and he’s been putting it to good use with his plan for a “holistic” energy park near Peterhead.
He interest in ecology and all things green began early and at a time – the early eighties – when such interests were also likely to consign someone to the ‘weird’ category.
“It was not fashionable. No one could get a job in the environmental sector in those days,” he says. Hence he went into teaching the subject as a lecturer at the University of Derby.
His second marriage, to a Scot, brought him north, taking jobs as a consultant and eventually setting up his own business.
His renewable power station project, proposed for 140 acres of farmland, will harness various forms of green power from hydrogen and wind to solar and biomass, all in one place, and he now has competing investors who want to inject millions getting it into production.
They include a consortium of American insurance companies, a Canadian insurer, and a group of Chinese backers. Aberdeen-based Wood has also shown interest. The numbers being talked about would make this one of the biggest energy investments in Scotland, with the build alone costing £800 million. Advisers estimated before the recent hikes in the price of gas that its annual income will come in at about £247m.
‘It was a stroke of luck, the perfect site for an energy village, and at that point we felt someone up there was looking after us’
“We want to build a power station with the same output as a petrochemical plant but which is totally green.” he says. “When we looked into it we saw that we could not only produce green energy but also repair some of the damage done by the petrochemicals industry.”
The first identified site was Hunterston in Ayrshire but EdF had other ideas and the plan switched to the north east when a farmer offered the required amount of land.
“He was looking to get out of farming and he had land next to Peterhead power station, close to the National Grid gas pipeline and near to a port. It was a stroke of luck, the perfect site for an energy village, and at that point we felt someone up there was looking after us.”
Aberdeenshire Council is giving positive noises about the project which will need Scottish Government approval. It is expected to take 10 years to complete.
A special project vehicle has been set up to own the plant and the licence to operate it and sell its output. It is owned by Cannibal’s company Holistic Energy and has been valued at £110m, more than enough to excite investors.
“It will eventually go to auction,” he says, “or we could bring in all, or a combination of investors. One thing we do not want is someone to buy it and turn it into a traditional plant. A condition of any sale will be to retain the vision of a holistic energy park. To be honest, that’s where the value lies.”
Occupation: Environmental entrepreneur
Birthplace: Walney Island, near Barrow-in-Furness, grew up in Blackpool
Education: Arnold School for Boys (independent), Blackpool; Oxford Polytechnic (environmental biology)
Career highlights: University of Derby (lecturer), Watermans, Jacobs Engineering (consultant), Holistic Energy (owner)
I was lead singer and bassist in a punk rock band Extreme Noise Terror. When we learned there was another band by the same name we became Extreme Noise Error.
As a former punk rocker in a band with that sort of name there must be lots of things that annoy you
Not really. Apart from racism.
Do you still play the bass to relax?
No. I walk my two spaniels.
Me and my wife are hosts for Positive Action Housing. We adopted a Sudanese girl who was a refugee.
My intellectual interests are complex systems theory and evolutionary theory.
If you could invite three people, living or dead, to a fantasy dinner party who would you choose?
Charles Darwin, Alan Turing and David Attenborough… just to find out how the brain works.