Gov. Charlie Baker sounded pleased Thursday that Columbia Gas is poised to be sold to a local utility and although he said his administration had no role in arranging the transaction, it will get a final say over whether the $1.1 billion deal comes to fruition.

Hours after federal prosecutors announced that Columbia Gas agreed to plead guilty to a federal felony in connection with the deadly 2018 gas fires and explosions in the Merrimack Valley and that its parent company NiSource was ordered to sell off Columbia Gas, Eversource Energy announced that it had reached an agreement to buy Columbia Gas's Massachusetts assets for $1.1 billion.

The federal charge stems from what U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling called "a wholesale management failure at Columbia Gas" that led to the explosions that rocked Lawrence, Andover and North Andover on Sept. 13, 2018, killing one person, injuring 22 others and damaging more than 130 homes and businesses.

"First of all, I think all of us were glad to see the U.S. attorney take this one on and to see Columbia settle it in the way that they did because, obviously, it sends a big message about safety which we think is critical and important," Baker said Thursday. He added, "Obviously, we had a lot of experience with Eversource up in up in the Merrimack Valley during that terrible tragedy a couple years ago and I think we saw at that point in time that there are real benefits to having a locally-owned, locally-managed company worrying about utility issues."

In the days following the gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, Baker declared a state of emergency and used the authority that afforded him to replace Columbia Gas and put Eversource in charge of the recovery efforts "on behalf of the Commonwealth." Baker said at the time that he believed the switch would "make a big difference" in the relationship between what state and local officials are told, and what actually happens.

U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, who represents Lawrence and parts of Andover, said Wednesday that, "While nothing that follows will erase the pain felt by these communities, the news that Columbia Gas will be sold will help our region heal and return to a sense of normalcy."

Though he was pleased with the news of the sale to Eversource, Baker said Thursday that his administration did not play a role in setting up the transaction, which was announced by Eversource just hours after Lelling announced that NiSource would have to sell off Columbia Gas.

The deal still requires the approvals of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and U.S. Department of Justice. Mass. DPU is in the midst of its own investigation of Columbia Gas's role and responsibility in the Merrimack Valley incident. The governor Thursday highlighted the role his administration's DPU now has to play in the approval of the $1.1 billion asset sale.

"The DPU is going to have to dig into this, they're going to have to make sure this is good for ratepayers, they're going to have to make sure the safety issues are addressed," he said.

The DPU is overseen by a three-member board: Chairman Matthew Nelson, and commissioners Robert Hayden and Cecile Fraser. All three were tapped by the Baker administration to serve on the board after a 2015 shake-up that saw the new Republican governor replace Ann Berwick, the wife of former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Don Berwick, as DPU chair.

Nelson, a former Eversource executive who also worked two previous stints at DPU, was named chairman last year after Angela O'Connor departed at the end of her four-year stint. At Eversource, Nelson was supervisor of regulatory, policy, and planning as part of the MassSave Initiative, according to the governor's office.

The Baker administration said Nelson was not available Thursday to speak with the News Service and declined to make any other DPU official available.

The administration said it would not be a conflict of interest for Nelson to oversee the proposed acquisition of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts by Eversource and said Nelson divested all of his financial holdings in Eversource when he left the company in 2016. The administration said Nelson will comply with state ethics regulations, including additional requirements placed on DPU commissioners.

Before being named a commissioner, Hayden worked at DPU for about 14 years, including in the pipeline safety division. Before joining DPU, he was a prosecutor in Plymouth County. Fraser was a private attorney who worked on energy and utility-related siting and rate cases before being tapped to serve as a DPU commissioner.

"The Department of Public Utilities has a statutory process in place to protect ratepayers during the sale of any public utility conducting business in the Commonwealth, and the Department will follow that process in an open and transparent manner," Craig Gilvarg, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said. "While any sale is pending, the Department of Public Utilities will continue to require that Columbia Gas of Massachusetts ensure public safety and maintain the safe operation of its gas system."

No petition for a proposed sale, merger, or acquisition of Columbia Gas has yet been filed with the DPU, the agency said.

The deal between Eversource and NiSource would more than double the number of natural gas customers Eversource serves in Massachusetts, from 300,000 to about 630,000. Columbia Gas currently serves 60 communities in Massachusetts, including the Brockton and Springfield areas in addition to the Merrimack Valley. Eversource currently has 300,000 natural gas customers and 1.5 million electric customers in 51 Massachusetts communities.

Matt Murphy contributed to this report.