R.I. Superior Court grants pause, halting National Grid sale to PPL

Updated at 4:21 p.m.

A STATE SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE on Friday granted the R.I. Attorney General's Office's request to halt the pending sale of Narragansett Electric Co. from National Grid to PPL Corp. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MARK S. MURPHY

 PROVIDENCE – A state judge has put the sale of Rhode Island’s primary utility business on ice pending further review later this month.

R.I. Superior Court Associate Justice Brian Stern on Friday granted the request from the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office to stop National Grid from selling the state utility company, Narragansett Electric Co, to a Pennsylvania based company. 

Understanding Robotic-Assisted Surgery: Insights from the Experts

Advances in robotics are transforming our world, and healthcare is no exception. Robotic-assisted surgery is…

Learn More

The R.I. Division of Public Utilities and Carriers in February approved the $3.8 billion sale on the grounds that the change in ownership would not hurt service or the public interest, per criteria set forth in state law. Neronha appealed the decision a day later, arguing that the decision did not provide adequate proof it had met the review standards.

Stern’s decision Friday only granted Neronha’s request to halt the transaction temporarily, not whether the decision by state regulators was legal. However, Stern in his decision acknowledged Neronha’s concerns that utility regulators did not meet the state’s own requirements when issuing their approval of the sale.

- Advertisement -

Unlike when state regulators approved the sale of Narragansett Electric Co. from Southern Union Co. to National Grid in 2006, the written decision on selling to PPL does not include the same “specific consideration” of how the deal might affect ratepayers and the environment, Stern wrote.

Rate hikes and PPL’s lack of expertise with renewable energy procurement and programs were among the chief concerns voiced by Neronha and other state environmental and consumer groups.

“This court takes issue with the Division’s reinterpretation and subsequent conclusions of state law,” Stern wrote, later stating that the “hearing officer’s reinterpretation is likely erroneous.”

Stern also sided with Neronha on the need to pause the transaction before it becomes final, pointing out that if the court denied the request for stay, the deal would close and it would be too late to do anything. 

“That is, without question, a type of irreparable harm that justifies a stay of the Division’s Order,” Stern wrote.

The sale has already received approval from federal regulators, and earlier this week, settled a dispute in Massachusetts state court, leaving the Rhode Island decision as the last obstacle in its way.

The R.I Superior Court will take up the review of the state regulators’ approval itself at a hearing on April 12, according to the decision. 

Ted Kresse, a spokesman for National Grid, said in an email on Friday that the company was disappointed with the decision but “​remained confident” that state regulators’ approval of the sale would be upheld.

As the division noted in its approval, National Grid and PPL have proven this transaction will not diminish the quality of service Rhode Islanders expect and deserve, and it is consistent with the public interest,” Kresse said. “We look forward to closing the transaction as expeditiously as possible.”
Kristy dosReis, a spokeswoman for Neronha’s office, said they “look forward to litigating on the merits.”
Ryan Hill, a spokesman for PPL Corp., declined to comment on the appeal.

(SUBS last paragraph with Hill declining comment.)

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NancyKLavin.

No posts to display