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Electric car study volunteers get home charging stations

A Nissan Leaf
Tom Banse
A Nissan Leaf

Starting this week, the first of roughly 900 electric car owners in the Northwest will each have a free charging station built into their garages. The deal comes with a catch though.

The greater Seattle area and Oregon's Willamette Valley are essentially becoming electric vehicle "laboratories" through the end of next year.

A San Francisco-based company called ECOtality is recruiting Nissan electric car owners to let researchers from the Idaho National Lab monitor their driving and charging behaviors. In exchange, the volunteers get a free, home-based charging station.

ECOtality North America president Don Karner says the objective is to learn when and where drivers will need a charge:

"Trying to determine the best place to put chargers away from the home, how to provide information to these vehicle owners as to where the chargers are, how they can utilize them, and build an infrastructure around the way they lead their lives."

The project is getting rolling slowly with just a handful of participants right now. That's because limited deliveries from Nissan leave local dealerships with very few electric cars to sell.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.