Take a Deep Breath

MATEP

WHEN HARVARD'S Medical Area Total Energy Plant (MATEP) got itself into new trouble this summer, one longtime opponent of the plant thought he had the ideal solution for the woeful diesel facility. Recalling the conversion of a grundgy Cambridge garage several years ago into a spiffy shopping mall known as "The Garage at Harvard Square," he suggested MATEP be converted into a consumer's palace, perhaps by the name of "The Power Plant at Mission Hill."

Replacing the $260 million plant's six II-ton diesel engines with a new Formaggio's and Coffee Connection certainly isn't what Harvard had in mind when it first started the cogeneration facility six years ago. But MATEP has been bogged down in court and regulatory battles almost since its inception. With Harvard's diesels once again embattled, the shopping mall concept is emblematic of what the university should do with its fiscal albatross.

Instead of jumping into another long series of state-ordered hearings on the controversial dealings. Harvard should immediately and publicly begin to explore ways to alter MATEP's course before the plant becomes a more severe financial drain.

The state Supreme Judicial Court's recent decision to require hearings into the question of a possible link between diesel exhaust and cancer guaranteed a long regulatory fight. Harvard's track record on questions like these is spotty; it has invariably sought to do the bare minimum it can to escape state environmental regulations. So rather than immediately getting into a new, knock-down, drag-out fight over technical minutiae. Harvard should ask for a moratorium on proceedings for the hearings. The communities which have successfully fought Harvard would certainly agree.

During this extended time-out, Harvard could let its own technical experts and others elsewhere reassess the plant's feasibility. Such a breather would probably produce a fresher idea of how to run the plant cleanly and efficiently.