Churches and gas stations -- the two make an unlikely pair.

But Coulomb Technologies said on Friday that Woodinville, Wash.-based Wooden Cross Lutheran will be the first church in the country to get a charging station. Coulomb, a Silicon Valley startup, is running a $37 million program (with $15 million from the federal government) to install 4,600 public and home charging stations in nine regions of the country, including New York, Washington, D.C., Orlando (Fla.), Austin, Detroit, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Fueling up your car at a church seems like a novel idea. For some time now, the charging equipment developers have talked about how their gear could be used by hotels, malls or other businesses to draw more foot traffic. Charging a battery fully takes hours.

The equipment manufacturers hope to convince businesses that they can make money not just by running charging stations, but also by selling their goods and services to electric car owners who have time to shop. But publicly charging station owners may not see profits initially, given that carmakers are rolling out electric models in small numbers across the country.

Could charging stations be a good tool for spreading the gospel? Here's a zinger for the church to advertise its new offering: "Recharge your soul-and your car." For Wooden Cross Lutheran, the idea of promoting a cleaner mode of transportation fits well with its own doctrine. The church started what it calls a "Green Team" in 2008 to "make Wooden Cross more eco-friendly and to promote communication of conservation ideas and actions amongst our congregation."

National Rollout

Coulomb's program, called ChargingPoint America, is one of the federally-funded initiatives to set up a network of charging stations in time for the arrival of mass-produced electric cars by automakers such as General Motors and Nissan. Both companies have drummed up a lot of fanfare for the cars they will start selling in the showrooms by the end of the year. Nissan started taking reservations online for its all-electric LEAF earlier this year and reached its 2010 quota of 20,000 last month.

GM's Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric car, is set to arrive at dealers next month, during which it also plans to make a public offering of its shares. The company has priced the Volt at $41,000.

Coda Automotive, a start-up electric car company in California, also has started taking reservations for its sedan. Other automakers, such as Ford, Toyota and Tesla Motors, plan to launch their own plug-in hybrid or all-electric vehicles in the next few years.

Another federally-funded charging station program, run by Ecotality, on Friday said it's rolling out 230 public charging stalls and 180 residential charging stations in the Tucson area. Ecotality highlighted the Desert Botanical Garden as the location to get two charging stations.

Ecotality is running a $230 million program, called EV Project, with $114.8 million from the federal government. The San Francisco company plans to use the money to install 15,000 stations in six states over the next year.

Both Coulomb and Ecotality hope their programs will demonstrate the benefits of charging stations to businesses and homeowners and spur more orders for their equipment and services after the programs end. For their programs, the companies are offering equipment and other services to participants, who have to pay for some or all of the installation costs. Consumers have to pay to recharge their cars.

In addition to ensuring that a charging network exists to support the launch of electric cars, the federal government also wants data from the two demonstration programs in order to understand consumers' charging behavior. Utilities want the data to figure out how to manage their electricity supply and demand if electric cars become more popular.

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