West Devon Borough Council is a long way off replacing its 41 diesel waste vehicles with electric or hydrogen models because of the cost.

Its annual fleet budget would buy just over half of a hydrogen waste lorry, according to figures discussed at an overview and scrutiny committee.

And it has not been proved that such environmentally friendly waste lorries could cope with very rural areas.

“Exeter has been using electric and has been struggling,” the council’s deputy chief executive Steve Mullineaux claimed.

He said an electric mini-road sweeper would blow half of the annual budget alone. They cost £250,000 compared to £90,000 for a diesel model.

A standard diesel refuse vehicle is £160,000 compared to £460,000 for an electric version, and hydrogen took the cost to a new level.

Preparing the depot for it to charge a new fleet of electric vehicles would cost in the region of half a million pounds, and the vehicles could travel around 100 miles a day before they needed charging, councillors were told.

The vast majority would have to remain diesel, but as technology progresses, prices would come down and some smaller vehicles could be swapped as they came to the end of their life, said Mr Mullineaux.

He said a bid had been put in for government funds to buy a hydrogen vehicle for South Hams District Council, which shares services with West Devon.

It is a pilot project to use the infrastructure being built at a hydrogen plant at Langage near Plymouth and test hydrogen vehicles in rural areas on behalf of Defra.

Four waste vehicles are being replaced this year in West Devon with diesel versions and a review is taking place on the rest.

Over the past year, not more than 80 waste collections in 100,000 – the maximum allowed – have been missed in most months, apart from October 2023 and January 2024 when there had been over 200 in 100,000.

These were due to a recording issue in January and a breakdown in the fleet in October.

By Alison Stephenson