RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 14 (Reuters) - At least eight companies have contacted Brazil's state-run utility Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras SA to express interest in the planned sale of its Celg-D power distribution unit, a source with direct knowledge of negotiations told Reuters on Monday.
The companies include China's State Grid Corp, Italy's Enel SpA and Brazilian utilities Companhia Energética de Minas Gerais, Equatorial Energia SA , Energisa SA, CPFL Energia SA, and Cia Paranaense de Energia. The source declined to name the eighth company, which is foreign based.
"The auction will take place between January and March, regardless of market conditions," said the source, who was not authorized to speak about the transaction, declined to be named.
Celg-D is considered to be one of the most attractive distribution assets Eletrobras plans to sell in coming months to raise cash to pay debt and finance investment.
The utility distributes electricity in Goias, a central Brazilian state with a powerful agricultural sector and expanding food processing industry.
Eletrobras owns 51 percent of Celg-D and Brazil's National Privatization Council last month approved its sale. The council set a minimum price for the stake at 1.42 billion reais ($366 million).
The state of Goias owns the remaining 49 percent.
Celg-D is one of several distribution utilities that the Brazilian government forced Eletrobras to take over in recent years, bailing them out after state or private investors failed to generate sufficient revenue to maintain operations, pay debt and meet legal expansion requirements.
CPFL said in a statement that it had already confirmed interest in the auction. State Grid said it "confirms its interest in the power distribution sector in Brazil."
Energisa declined to comment. Cemig, Copel, Equatorial and Enel did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
The source said he expects State Grid to be a leading contender. Cemig, he added would also be a good candidate but may not has as much appetite as State Grid.
Credit Suisse said it expects strong competition for the utility but considers the current price too high.
$1 = 3.87 reais Writing by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Steve Orlofsky