U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Minnesota senators made the pitch Friday for clean energy proposals in the infrastructure and social safety net bills that are tied up in Congress, saying the measures would help the state in its quest to go carbon-free.

"A clean energy future, the way I look at it, is going to happen. The question is whether we lead or whether we follow," Sen. Tina Smith said at a discussion in St. Paul with Gran­holm, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and local officials with ties to the energy sector.

The energy secretary has been traveling the country making the pitch for elements of President Joe Biden's $3.5 trillion social and climate spending bill and a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure. But as Granholm highlights energy proposals in the sweeping spending package, Democrats in Washington have been considering ways to scale back their ambitions in order to get the bill through Congress, with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia reported Friday to be steadfast against provisions to shutter coal plants.

The bulk of the measures that would reduce carbon emissions are in the $3.5 trillion spending bill, said Fresh Energy Executive Director Michael Noble, whose nonprofit advocates for clean energy. Noble said a provision that Smith advocates, and Manchin is calling a non-starter, is a "bedrock" of the plan. The Clean Electricity Payment Program would give financial incentives to utilities and other electricity providers that speed up the shift to clean electricity and penalize those that don't.

"It decarbonizes the electric grid in a way that doesn't hurt anybody. It helps utilities cover the cost," Noble said.

Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in September that the proposal "makes no sense to me" as companies are already shifting to clean electricity.

Smith said she believes the clean electricity program is the most efficient way to add clean energy, but she noted that lawmakers are in the midst of negotiations.

"At the end of the day, we can't lose track of what the big goal is, which is that we have policies in place that are going to reduce carbon emissions and put us on the forefront of the technology revolution," she said.

Officials with utility companies, state agencies and local nonprofits and foundations emphasized Friday that the transition to clean energy must be done carefully and equitably.

Minnesota has lessons to offer the nation in the shift to clean energy, Granholm said.

Last week, Gov. Tim Walz directed the state's agriculture and transportation departments to develop recommendations to reduce the impact of transportation fuels on climate change and help come up with a clean fuel standard for Minnesota.

At the start of the year, the governor and DFL lawmakers proposed a set of policies aimed at getting the state's electricity sector to 100% clean energy by 2040.

Government officials are juggling long-term clean energy goals with current energy demands as Minnesotans and the rest of the country face skyrocketing natural gas and oil prices.

"For the average American, higher fuel costs are going to impact distribution trucks and ships, raising the prices of goods and food. It's not only your electric bill and heating bill. You're going to see all prices go up to some extent in the economy," Alfred Marcus, a professor at the Carlson School of Management, warned in a statement this week.

"This situation with the supply chain bottlenecks, shrinkage of the workforce, the pandemic — it's unprecedented."

U.S. leaders can't flip a switch after a major shutdown, such as the one caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and have the economy turn on a dime, Granholm said, when asked if there is anything the Biden administration can do to address the climbing costs. She noted that there's been a significant increase in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program during the pandemic.

"You can be all in on creating a clean energy economy and on managing this transition so that people still have access to affordable power, reliable power," Granholm said.

"We want to keep pressing and build out more and deploy, deploy, deploy clean energy at the same time that we want to make sure that baseload power is protected. Both have to happen. This winter, we want to make sure that we can get as much power online."

Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044