It may only be March, but I already know what I’m putting at the top of my green holiday wish list: A 2011 Nissan Leaf. It was announced yesterday that the electric vehicle (EV) will be available for both purchase and lease in select markets in December.

It may even be possible to realize my wish, thanks to a hefty federal tax credit of $7,500 that will knock the price of the Leaf down to $25,280. That credit will also be factored into leasing deals, which are expected to start at $349 a month. And because I live in the state of California, where an additional $5,000 tax rebate is available, the cost could be even lower. (Green car enthusiasts living outside the Golden State need not feel excluded; $5,000 and $1,500 tax credits are available in Georgia and Oregon, respectively.)

The Leaf may not seem as affordable as, say, a Honda Fit, but factor in the operating costs and the Leaf starts to look pretty tempting: Charging the Leaf for 100 miles will set you back a mere $3 in electricity costs; compare that with the more than $11 in gasoline to drive the same distance in the 2009 Fit (based on the current national average fuel price of $2.94 a gallon). Plus, the prospect of never again having to stop at a gas station is pretty compelling. Take that, ExxonMobil!

An electric vehicle isn’t without environmental cost, however. EVs increase demand for electricity — and if the electricity from your utility isn’t coming from a green source like solar or wind, you could be passing the buck to coal-fired power plants.

Still, there are a few other incentives that may nudge you toward the Leaf:

Zero emissions. The Leaf completely eliminates emissions at the tailpipe (the car doesn’t even have one!), which may help reduce air pollution in congested cities like Los Angeles.

Eco-friendly features. The vehicle is equipped with energy-efficient LED headlights, as well as recycled/recyclable seat fabric, instrument panel, and bumper materials.

Made in America. In May, Nissan will break ground on its vehicle and battery production plant in Tennessee, which will be capable of manufacturing 150,000 Leafs and 200,000 battery packs a year. The move is expected to bring 1,300 jobs to the area.

There’s just one glitch in my green holiday plans: Because I’m a renter in an apartment building, I may not be able to install the personal charging dock that Nissan provides along with the car. And while glitzier apartment/condo complexes may be adding charging stations to their list of amenities that already include fitness centers and swimming pools, that scenario isn’t likely for my eight-unit 1920s Los Angeles walk-up. (I’m lucky I even have a garage, albeit one that looks like a tool shed.)

Still, I’ve been told that the company is planning to make public charging stations readily available in major markets. With 85,000 people already signed up on the preliminary interest list for the Leaf, consumer demand may soon make that a reality.

–Jennifer Grayson

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