Starting this week, the first of roughly 900 electric car owners each in western Oregon and Washington will 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.

Don Karner: "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 Oregon and Washington participants right now. That's because limited deliveries from Nissan leave local dealerships with very few electric cars to sell.

On the Web:

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