Without looking at the law in every jurisdiction, we can say with some certainty that It is illegal to sell electricity in the U.S. unless you're a utility company. Originally intended to keep shady landlords from overcharging tenants for power, this law creates a bit of a problem for companies, like Coulomb Technologies, that want to get into the electric vehicle charging station business. At the Plug-In 2009 conference in Long Beach this week, we spoke with Coulomb's Mike DiNucci, who told us how his company has figured out a way to offer customers electricity without breaking the law. It was tricky, but they found a solution is to sell charging sessions at the outlet, not the power itself.

When you use one of Coulomb's ChargePoints, you'll pay a set rate, say $2. You pay this if you're getting a 30-minute top-off while getting groceries or if you charge up for four hours during dinner and a movie. Since you're paying the same amount for vastly different amounts of energy, no one can accuse Coulomb of selling the energy. Instead, they're selling access to the energy. Clever, no? Read on past the jump to find out how DiNucci says this method will make money for Coulomb, and for private and public entities – like Sierra Nevada Brewing – that install ChargePoints.

The up-front investment to install a single ChargePoint is between $4,000 and $5,000. Money from the installations is one of Coulomb's two income streams. The other comes not from those $2 charging sessions – the people who provide the space for the stations get to keep that money to pay for the juice and make their installation cost back – but from the $100/year (roughly) subscription fee that Coulomb charges regular users. This fee will allow you access to the network, but won't pay for the electricity. That cost will still be charged each time you visit the ChargePoint, just like you pay each time you go to the gas station now.

If you're not a subscriber but have an EV you want to plug into a ChargePoint, you can call the toll-free number printed on each ChargePoint to either sign up as a subscriber on the spot or pay an access fee via credit card. The good news is that Coulomb will give everyone two free charging sessions, a little "try before you buy" access. When it comes time to pay the bills, let's be clear that not all sessions will be $2. Coulomb offers a variety of plans, including simple pre-paid cards, that should meet most EV drivers' needs, no matter how often they charging away from home.

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