* Five expressions of interest for grid operator ADMIE
* Chinese, Italian, Belgian operators among suitors -sources
* Athens wants investor to spend 2.5 bln euros on grid
By Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, May 9 (Reuters) - Greek power grid operator ADMIE attracted five expressions of interest as the government seeks to sell a controlling stake, state-controlled power utility PPC said on Friday.
PPC, which owns ADMIE and will handle the deal, said in a regulatory statement that “five expressions of interest were submitted, indicating strong competition and robust international investor interest”.
According to two sources with knowledge of the matter, the possible suitors include Chinese grid operator China State Grid Corp. (SGCC), Italy’s Terna and Belgium’s Elia .
“The other two expressions of interest have come from a Canadian investment fund and a company from India,” one of the two sources said on condition of anonymity.
This wide-ranging interest from three continents confirms the increasing attractiveness of Greek state asset sales after its bailed-out government returned to the bond markets last month.
Athens is selling 66 percent of ADMIE, which runs about 11,000 kilometres (7,000 miles) of high-voltage power lines across the country.
The proceeds will not count towards Greece’s privatisation revenue targets under the terms of its 237 billion euro bailout. But Athens must carry out the sale to comply with European Union energy laws that require grid operators to be separate, stand-alone entities.
SGCC bought a 25 percent stake in Portuguese power grid operator REN two years ago and has said it will invest further in European utilities if the price is right.
Both Portugal and Greece had to be rescued through multi-billion-euro bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
Athens wants ADMIE’s buyer to invest 2.5 billion euros to extend its grid to several islands and lay new connections to neighbouring countries such as Italy.
Most Greek islands currently lack links to the mainland grid and therefore depend on polluting, blackout-prone, oil-fired power stations to provide electricity to the millions of tourists they attract each summer. Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign-currency earner.
New power connections abroad would also allow Greece to boost renewable energy production on its sun-baked, windswept islands and export it to other countries.
ADMIE’s sale is expected to take place later this year, with the proceeds going to PPC. The buyer will run a regulated business with a fixed rate of return to recoup its investment. (editing by Jane Baird)