WASHINGTON - U.S. lawmakers should not let climate change legislation delays hold up proposals to overhaul the nation's outdated electricity grid, a top energy regulator said Friday.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee approved a comprehensive energy package this year that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority override state objections to expanding electricity transmission lines.

I would hope the Senate would consider looking at a (transmission) bill separately, if in fact the climate bill does seem to be stalled, FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff told reporters after addressing a smart grid event in Washington.

Wellinghoff said additional federal government oversight was necessary to ensure transmission lines are updated and expanded to connect renewable energy sources in remote locations to urban populations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he plans to combine the energy measures with legislation that would address global warming by establishing a system capping greenhouse gas emissions.

A contentious debate over healthcare reform has overshadowed the climate change issue over the summer, however.

Senate Democratic leaders pushed back introducing their own version of a House climate bill until later in September, but it's unclear whether the bill will make it to the chamber floor this year.

In addition to the transmission legislation, Wellinghoff said he hoped that government standards for developing so-called smart grid technology will be completed in 18 to 24 months. Smart grids utilize computers and sensors at power plants to move electricity more efficiently and at lower costs.

(Editing by Walter Bagley)