The electric car won’t be free, but the $2,000 240-volt charger might be. To find out why, read on.

The $230 million EV Project is the largest deployment of electric vehicles and chargers in history. Of course, that’s not saying a huge amount — battery cars have been dormant for quite a while since their original heyday from 1900 to 1920. But it’s big, and it will put nearly 15,000 ECOtality charging stations — free — in 13 cities in five states.

The Department of Energy is a major funder, and Nissan (which makes the Leaf battery car) and Chevrolet (the Volt plug-in hybrid) are partners in the enterprise. That means the chargers will be in cities and states that also have those cars: Oregon, Washington, California, Arizona and Tennessee. You live in one of ‘em? Great! Now you just have to hang your hat in one of the specific regions targeted — check the EV Project website.

ECOtality is handing over the charger itself and a credit of up to $1,200 to get it installed. It’s a limited-time-only offer. The Volt tops up in four hours from ECOtality chargers.

According to GM, 4,400 early adopter owners of the Volt will be eligible for the free chargers when the car goes on sale in November (in California, Michigan and Washington, D.C.) This includes not only 2,600 chargers from the EV Project, but also an additional 1,800 that are part of a similar project called ChargePoint America. This one is the recipient of a $15 million DOE grant, and the chargers are from industry leader Coulomb Technologies (also wiring Holland, which staged a cool charging party).

Ford and Smart are also partners in the ChargePoint project, so the geographical and vehicle spread is somewhat different: In addition to California (where a third of the chargers will go) there is also New York City, Orlando, Austin, Detroit, Washington (D.C.) and Redmond, Wash. Gotcha covered now?

Marc Carlson of Coulomb says there’s a minor catch — if you want one of his chargers, you have to agree to allow data to be collected from your free station for two years, but that doesn’t seem too onerous. The chargers are Internet-ready, which means the data just flows to company headquarters. No note taking is necessary, and as the owner of the charger you’ll have access to the data on the web. You also have to undergo a home audit to make sure your home is ready for 240 volts, and apartment dwellers will need their landlord’s permission.

People worry that if they buy an electric vehicle early their won’t be any public charging for it, but it may not matter all that much. Tony Posawatz, the line director for the Volt, told me that “almost all of the charging [for the Volt] will be done at home — at least in the initial phases where workplace charging and public charging will not be fully developed.”

So what’s stopping you? If you’re buying an electric vehicle, and are geographically blessed, apply now to ChargePoint and the EV Project.

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