With very little fanfare, the City Council last month approved the first solar-lease project – an innovative financial model that allows nonprofits, schools, and other cash-strapped entities to reap the benefits of solar without busting the bank to pay for it. The Council’s decision could have a far-reaching impact on the city’s energy future – possibly adding tens of thousands more power-generating solar panels to rooftops across 437 square miles of Austin Energy’s service area. LifeWorks, a resource organization for young people and families, is the first nonprofit to become eligible for performance-based incentives (PBIs) through a new solar-lease arrangement with Meridian Sol¬ar, an Austin-based installation company. PBIs used to be cold, hard cash rebates, but after Austin Energy exhausted its solar rebate budget for commercial and nonprofit organizations a few years ago, the utility hit the pause button in 2010 and crafted the PBI plan, paying 14 cents for every kilowatt-hour of energy churned out by a solar system for up to 10 years. That’s when solar became cost-prohibitive for nonprofits, which had previously relied on up-front rebates to help finance their systems. So the Austin utility spent the next two years trying to the figure out how to get nonprofits back on board.