Inside Track: Scripps is energized by politics
The president of the MiEIBC has been a member of the Michigan House and previously worked on campaigns here and in Scotland.
For a guy who isn’t 40 yet, the president of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council seems to already have been there and done that.
Dan Scripps, 38, is a lawyer who has worked in Washington, D.C., been a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, a bartender in Northport, and a political activist who worked on election campaigns from Leelanau County to Lansing, Washington and Scotland.
Yes, Scotland. In 1998-99, Scripps managed the campaign for a lawyer and businessman who was a candidate for the newly reconstituted Scottish Parliament. Later he returned to Scotland to work for that politician, Nicol Stephen — today a member of the British House of Lords and a major investor in commercial wind farms.
Scripps was born in Grand Rapids but didn’t stay long. His father, Doug, was a professor of music, and the family moved to Mount Pleasant where he worked at Central Michigan University. Later his father joined the faculty at Alma College.
Dan Scripps enrolled in Alma College in 1994 and graduated with a degree in political science. There he became politically active: His first hands-on experience was in 1998 with John C. Austin (now president of the State Board of Education). Scripps was manager of Austin’s campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State.
That summer, Scripps was dating a girl who was going that fall to the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland. He had no job and no commitments so he decided to go with her.
And the romance in Scotland? “She met a nice Scottish boy,” said Scripps.
He got a temporary work permit and started working for 40-year-old Nicol Stephen, who had a management consulting firm in Aberdeen called Glassbox Ltd. Scripps was assigned to the transportation group, which designed buses and trains for local transit authorities and the Scottish railroad.
“I know a lot about toilet specifications for train cars,” said Scripps, laughing.
His boss was also planning to run for the new Scottish Parliament, so Scripps became involved in the campaign. Stephen won the election in May 1999.
“I stayed far longer than I had planned. I thought I’d be home for Christmas (in 1998),” said Scripps. In summer 1999, he returned to the U.S. and had a few temporary political jobs, one of which was on Sen. Bill Bradley’s national media team during his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2000.
By then Scripps’ parents had moved to Northport, and he found work there as a bartender. Then he returned to Scotland briefly to work again for Stephen on another political campaign. Stephen and his wife — both lawyers — sat Scripps down one day to offer some advice: Go back to the U.S. and get into law school. They urged Scripps not to remain on the sidelines in politics.
He took their advice. He came back and was accepted at the University of Michigan Law School, then returned to Scotland in early 2002 to work in Stephen’s Parliament office as a speech writer until classes started at U-M that fall.
“I loved law school,” said Scripps. One class on Constitutional interpretation had only 10 students, which permitted “a lot of honest debates” over critical American legal issues.
“One of my classmates was a young guy named Justin Amash,” said Scripps. “Justin and I would become friends, and I think we have lot of mutual respect for each other, even if we don’t always agree.”
Scripps graduated cum laude in 2005 and went to work at Latham & Watkins LLP in Washington, with a focus on finance and regulatory issues relating to energy and climate change.
But friends in Leelanau County urged Scripps to run for the Michigan House. He said he didn’t think a Democrat could win, but “they took this as a challenge.”
So he left his job to run in 2006 and lost, but he did get 48 percent of the vote. He then found work with the Leelanau Conservancy. The Michigan Farm Bureau said the project he developed there was “one of the most innovative privately funded farmland preservation programs in the nation.”
Meanwhile, the House incumbent in Leelanau County was term-limited and couldn’t run again in 2008, so Scripps tried again and won — a first for a Democrat. Scripps was entering the Michigan House in the middle of the Great Recession, with the national economy “in free fall.”
Because of term limits and the turnover of House members, Scripps was soon vice chair of the House banking committee. When the chair took a job in Washington, Scripps became chair. Each Friday, he would get a call from state banking regulators, advising him of banks in Michigan that were going into bankruptcy over the weekend. It was “a bizarre time,” he said, especially to be “chairing the committee on banking in the middle of the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression.”
Scripps was defeated in his try for another term in 2010, so he went back to Latham & Watkins, where one of his proudest accomplishments was working with the Coalition for Green Capital, developing and implementing the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority, the nation’s first “green bank.”
In the long run, though, he wanted to be back in Michigan.
He had worked for the Advanced Energy Economy, which helped set up the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council, so when there was a search for a new president at MiEIBC, Scripps applied and got the job. Since then, he and his family have been living in Grand Rapids.
“We work to grow markets for the advanced energy industry in Michigan,” he said. A lot of effort involves public policy, with Michigan’s 2008 renewable energy law a major example.
Right now, MiEIBC is working in support of a bill in the Michigan Legislature that would allow community colleges to use Energy Savings Performance Contracting as a means of financing energy-efficiency projects through the resulting savings.
Another bill would permit Michigan’s municipal utilities to offer loans to homeowners for energy-saving improvements, with the loans being paid back on the customer’s monthly bills.
At its start in early 2012, the MiEIBC was a small, loose group of businesses trying to work out a long-term plan. Last year it went from 10 dues-paying members to more than 50
Alternative energy technology in the U.S. has improved dramatically, aiding the growth of the industry. When Michigan renewable energy legislation was passed in 2008, experts figured 80 meters was as high as turbine towers could go.
“Now we can do 100-meter towers, which can capture twice as much” wind, he said — which means many more locations are suitable for wind farms.
Originally it was thought electricity from wind would cost about $116 per megawatt hour to produce; the industry now figures the cost at about $45.
With the pending closing of most of the old coal-fired plants in Michigan, the emphasis is on renewable energy and new technology involving gas-fired power plants.
Scripps said in the last few years, most of the commercial energy investment in Michigan has been renewable: wind farms, large solar installations, and waste-powered methane digesters like the new one in Fremont that is adding power to the grid.
The expression “alternative” energy is sort of a misnomer, said Scripps, “when almost everything we’re building is ‘alternative energy.’ Alternative energy really has become mainstream. That’s a big difference from six years ago.”